Jimmy Carter named S. David Freeman chairman of the board at the Tennessee Valley Authority in 1977. He was sent there to clean up an agency that had strayed far from it’s New Deal upbringing. “I tried real hard to make TVA more environmentally sensitive,” said Freeman, talking with Lexington Herald-Leader columnist Tom Eblen. “But I’ll be frank with you: I felt like I was a heart transplant that got rejected about the time I left. The organization itself never got over its low-cost power mission as the overriding mission.”

Eblen covered agency in the 1980s and decided to give Freeman a call after the ugly and dangerous ash holding pond failure at a TVA plant near Kingston, Tennessee. A billion gallons of toxic gunk poured over fields and homes and flooded the Emory River. Freeman told Eblen that people had forgotten that TVA in the 1930s taught the rest of the nation about flood plain management. We had a civil service system before the (rest of the) federal government had one. TVA was the fertilizer research center for the whole world, and we developed all kinds of fertilizers. We taught soil conservation to the farmers. “The power part of the system was the tail. I think what happened over the years was the tail became the dog.”

“The truth of the matter is that nobody dreamed when we designed that plant in 1950 that the sucker would still be running in 2009,” Freeman told Eblen last week. “I’m reasonably certain that that holding pond was designed for maybe a 30-year life, 35, maybe 40. Nobody dreamed they would be piling up that crap for 58 years.”

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