Category Archives: legal

>Hey TVA: Have You Read Your Mission Statement Lately?


Amazingly, TVA had no legal obligation to keep this from happening!

I guess this is some kind of legal maneuver over “standing” or some such (I don’t know, I’m not a lawyer), but apparently the Tennessee Valley Authority’s lawyers claim that 58 people suing over the Kingston coal ash spill were not harmed by their 1.1 billion gallons of toxic coal slurry spill back in December 2008.

The money quote is this:

The motion filed in Knoxville said TVA has no legal obligation to keep its reservoirs safe for public recreational use and enjoyment.

Really? You so sure about that?:

Mission Statement

The mission of the Tennessee Valley Authority is to develop and operate the Tennessee River system to improve navigation, minimize flood damage, and to provide energy and related products and services safely, reliably, and at the lowest feasible cost to residents and businesses in the multi-state Tennessee Valley region. TVA’s integrated management of the entire Tennessee River watershed optimizes the benefits of the water resource. Major functions of the corporation include:

• Management of the Tennessee River system for multiple purposes including navigation, flood control, power generation, water quality, public lands conservation, recreation, and economic development;
• Generation of electricity;
• Sale and transmission of electricity to wholesale and large industrial customers;
• Stimulation of economic development activities that generate a higher quality of life for citizens of the Tennessee Valley;
• Preservation and environmentally-sensitive management of TVA assets and federal lands entrusted to TVA; and
• Research and technology development that addresses environmental problems related to TVA’s statutory responsibilities for river and land management and power generation.

Again, I’m not a lawyer, but it sure sounds to me like TVA has a legal obligation to keep its reservoirs safe for public recreational use and enjoyment. We’re always hearing about TVA’s tri-fold mission of power generation, economic development and natural resource management. It’s something they tout everywhere, including places like this:

What is TVA?

The Tennessee Valley Authority is a federal corporation and the nation’s largest public power company. As a regional development agency, TVA supplies reliable, competitively priced power, supports a thriving river system and stimulates sustainable economic development in the public interest. TVA operates fossil fuel, nuclear and hydropower plants, and also produces energy from renewable sources. It manages the nation’s seventh-largest river system to reduce flood damage, produce power, maintain navigation, provide recreational opportunities and protect water quality in the 41,000-square-mile watershed.

I realize lawyer-types like to weasel their way around the law by saying things like “our client has no legal obligation to keep its reservoirs safe for public recreational use and enjoyment,” leaving us all to assume that whatever river and land management they’ve done up to this point has been out of the goodness of said clients’ hearts. But having worked for TVA in a former life and constantly having their trifold mission drilled into my head I am thinking … no. I have to say all of us in the Tennessee Valley are certainly operating under the assumption that there is a legal obligation to manage the river system for things like recreation which, let’s face it, is a key part of the economic development picture.

But again, I’m not a lawyer. I will say this: if the courts agree that TVA has no legal obligation to keep its reservoirs safe for public recreational use and enjoyment, then the first order of business should be amending the TVA Act to make sure that they do.


Filed under ash spill, clean coal, legal, TVA

>Law School Boogaloo

>I sounded the alarm about corporate influence over higher education last month with this post, “When Corporations Go To College.”

Now I’ve been alerted to an even more nefarious mechanism by which major corporations are wielding their influence and stifling those who challenge them. By trying to block legal challenges made by law school clinics:

ANNAPOLIS, Md. — Law school students nationwide are facing growing attacks in the courts and legislatures as legal clinics at the schools increasingly take on powerful interests that few other nonprofit groups have the resources to challenge.

On Friday, lawmakers here debated a measure to cut money for the University of Maryland’s law clinic if it does not provide details to the legislature about its clients, finances and cases.

The measure, which is likely to be sent to the governor this week, comes in response to a suit filed in March by students accusing one of the state’s largest employers, Perdue, of environmental violations — the first effort in the state to hold a poultry company accountable for the environmental impact of its chicken suppliers.

Wow. That’s some serious hardball. Sounds to me like Perdue used its cronies in the state legislature to threaten the university’s law school with a cut in funds because it didn’t like a case the law clinic took. (Perdue denies such intimidation, of course.)

Sound fantastical? No stranger than Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey allegedly pressuring a state senator to drop his mountaintop removal ban bill at the behest of a big contributor . Or the time the coal industry tried to weaken state clean water laws regulating selenium with generous campaign donations. Or the time King Pharmaceuticals tried to buy the Tennessee Republican Party. I mean come on, people. Shit like this happens in Tennessee all the time.

I wonder what would happen if the University of Tennessee College of Law’s clinic took on, say, King Pharmaceuticals? Would Vanderbilt’s Legal Clinic have taken on Massey Energy when Gordon Gee was VU chancellor? One has to wonder: he served on their board of directors.

Back to our story:

Law clinics at other universities — from New Jersey to Michigan to Louisiana — are facing similar challenges. And legal experts say the attacks jeopardize the work of the clinics, which not only train students with hands-on courtroom experience at more than 200 law schools but also have taken on more cases against companies and government agencies in recent years.

“We’re seeing a very strong pushback from deep-pocket interests, and that pushback is creating a chilling effect on many clinics,” said Robert R. Kuehn, a law professor at Washington University in St. Louis, citing a recent survey he conducted that found that more than a third of faculty members at legal clinics expressed fears about university or state reaction to their casework and that a sixth said they had turned down unpopular clients because of these concerns.

Of course, corporate interests and politicians have all sorts of defenses for what is basically a baltant intimidation tactic. The truth is, small non-profit groups like environmental and citizens organizations don’t have the massive legal resources of a big corporation like Perdue or a government agency. Law clinics are often their only legal resource.

States American Bar Association President Carolyn Lamm of the Maryland case:

As president of the American Bar Association, I urge those who would undermine clinical law school programs to step back and remember that the rule of law cannot survive if pressure prevents lawyers from fulfilling their responsibilities to their clients. I call on lawyers in every state to remember their professional obligation to uphold the independence of their profession, and speak out against intimidation whenever they see it. Just as lawyers who represent unpopular clients are fulfilling the responsibilities of all lawyers, so too are law students who assist clients in clinical legal programs.

Corporations continue to grow in might and power, using their considerable weight to stack regulatory agencies and control the government in the interest of their profits over the public good. This is just one more example. Keep your eyes open, people.

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Filed under corporations, education, legal