Jimmy Carter photo

Knoxville, Tennessee Remarks to Employees of the Tennessee Valley Authority.

May 22, 1978

Senator Baker; Senator Sasser; Governor Blanton; Members of Congress who are here—Congressmen Allen and Duncan, Ford, Gore, Jones, Marilyn Lloyd—Secretary James Schlesinger; Director of the General Services Administration and a Tennessean, Jay Solomon; Mayor Tyree; Mayor Bissell of Oak Ridge, where I'll be going later on today; Speaker Ned McWherter, an old friend of mine; former Chairman, a great man, Red Wagner; Chairman Dave Freeman, and my friends from Tennessee:

I'm glad to be here. It's always a great honor for me to visit your State. I have been taken in by you as a friend. During my early campaign for the nomination as a Democrat to run for President, Georgia gave me more votes than any other State, but Tennessee was right behind with 78 percent. I'll always remember your friendship and your confidence, and I want to come here again today to thank you from the bottom of my heart.

Today I've come also because of a special interest—to visit with literally thousands of distinguished leaders and employees in one of the great institutions of America.

In 1933, after 16 years of debate in the Congress, there was created the Tennessee Valley Authority. At that time in this region and throughout the South, including where I lived in southern Georgia, there existed a depression in our economy and also of our human spirit. Our income was extremely low. Our soil was eroding rapidly. Our forests were being excessively exploited. Rich mineral resources were lying buried and undeveloped. And our use of energy resources was still in a relatively primitive stage.

TVA began to change all that. Dams were built throughout the Tennessee Valley to control floods and to generate badly needed electricity. Forests were replanted. Conservation was encouraged. Soil erosion was controlled. And good and cheap soil fertilizers were developed and distributed throughout the Southeast.

Farmers, manufacturers were encouraged to use the rich natural resources of the Tennessee Valley and to use them wisely. The TVA program was sound and innovative, and it set a fine pattern for change which has benefited our whole Nation.

I'm very pleased to meet with you today because I have long admired the superlative work of the Tennessee Valley Authority.

TVA has changed the lives of many millions of Southerners. Those of us who grew up on farms in the rural South saw firsthand the dramatic improvements in our lives that came when electricity replaced kerosene lamps and a lot of backbreaking work which bound our lives almost exclusively to duties within a given home or within a small family farm. TVA pioneered in creating rural cooperatives that brought the benefits of electricity to farms all over the Nation and gave us a new freedom, a new interest in a much broader and a much better personal world.

I've come because I want to acknowledge the fine work that TVA has done and to pledge you my support as President of the United States and to ask for your help in the expanded role that I see for TVA in years ahead.

The TVA has a unique requirement that members of the agency's Board of Directors be people who believe in the basic purposes for which TVA was established. Through the years, TVA has been led by outstanding people who have measured up to that standard well. Chairman Wagner's illustrious 44-year career personifies TVA's success story, and I thank him from the bottom of my heart.

I'm determined to appoint people to the Board who will continue strong leadership in TVA. I know that Dave Freeman, as a veteran of this valley and a native, shares this dedication. He cut his teeth professionally as an engineer in TVA. He came back here again to practice as a lawyer, and his thinking has been in the forefront of raising our national consciousness about how to produce and to use energy wisely and well. He's going to make an outstanding Chairman. And I will soon send the names of the other Board members to the Congress for confirmation.

We've never spent more time and effort in screening out a long list of potential appointees than we have for these two selections now before me. We have devoted the same amount of time and attention to it as in the original selection of my own Cabinet.

TVA has a long history of carrying out difficult assignments. We in this country are now facing problems of energy production and conservation, that we've never faced before, and the proper use of natural resources, which TVA is uniquely suited to help solve. In fact, if the U.S. Government didn't already have a TVA, I would be fighting to create one as part of the energy program. TVA has that rare combination of skills needed to protect and to perfect our energy systems. Its power people can work shoulder to shoulder with its experts in biology, community development, pollution control, land use, and other fields necessary to carry out energy demonstrations that will again set standards of excellence for our entire Nation.

You are building nuclear powerplants-six, I believe—as safely and economically as is humanly possible and setting a good example for the Nation by minimizing the adverse impacts from their construction on the communities in which they will be located.

You are demonstrating that a Government agency can operate efficiently and cost-effectively. In almost every phase of electric service, your operating costs for electric power compare favorably with the average costs of private power companies nationwide.

As a result, in spite of rate increases mandated by the increasing costs of oil, coal, and nuclear fuel, Tennessee still has the lowest home electric rates of any State east of the Rocky Mountains.

I know it is frustrating to you to see costs increase in spite of your best efforts. I applaud the hard line that the TVA Board has recently taken to hold down rate increases, when they reduced a recommended rate increase by nearly one-third. But I expect the TVA and all Americans to do even more. Inflation is the Nation's number one economic problem. And while I realize that TVA must pay its increasing bills for fuel and labor and materials, that is all the more reason to redouble your efforts to control inflation.

Twenty years ago, TVA helped to expose a price fixing conspiracy in order to maintain competition in the electrical equipment field. Today, TVA is challenging an international uranium cartel and helping to lead the resistance to expanding oil company domination of all our energy resources.

This administration is with you in encouraging more competition and less concentration of economic power among the producers of petroleum, coal, and uranium. Energy prices must cover all legitimate costs of production, including environmental protection, but not waste and not windfall profits at the consumers' expense.

TVA's main job is to meet the needs of your own region. But in doing so you can help the Nation by demonstrating how a variety of production sources and conservation measures can add to our energy supplies in a socially acceptable manner.

After I took office last year, I suggested that TVA serve as a national proving ground for some of the new approaches, the necessarily new approaches to energy problems being developed in our national energy program. Chairman Wagner accepted that offer enthusiastically and came back and made a list of things, in addition, which TVA can do and will do to help with this great challenge in the future. David Freeman will provide the leadership to continue that effort.

I know, as a businessman myself, as a farmer in the southeast part of our country, how important it is for the TVA programs to have a long-range, sound, predictable, substantive status. There must be a way for business leaders, farmers, and others to make plans based upon a TVA program whose thrust is maintained, not just for months or years, but for decades.

Many of TVA's energy demonstration activities are still in the early stages, but they are an impressive beginning. In home insulation, which is particularly important to the customers you serve because so many homes are heated by electricity; in solar heating, a major responsibility of yours for the future; in commuter carpooling, to save energy of all kinds; in pricing, rates to reduce peak load use; in advancing pollution control, which is necessary and has an increasingly complex technology; and in so many other areas, TVA is showing the way for the rest of the Nation.

Every American can take pride in what you have done and what you will do in the future. When the legislation to create TVA was signed by President Roosevelt, he said the new agency should be charged with the broadest duty of planning for the proper use, conservation, and development of the natural resources of the Tennessee Valley region.

I believe that is still the central part of TVA's even broader role today. We still need more effective planning for this country's future course. And I cannot imagine a job better suited to the origins and the traditions of the Tennessee Valley Authority.

TVA has harnessed the Tennessee River for the benefit of its people. And it has built an energy system that is the finest in the Nation. Your people have prospered because of this.

Now as you move past the national average in material wealth and employment for people who live in your region, formerly quite depressed compared to the rest of the country, I want to leave you with an even greater challenge. You can provide an alternative to the congested, polluted, unstabilized super-cities of tomorrow. Your planned industrial growth can help disperse population, creating new opportunities outside the major metropolitan centers in your own rapidly growing, prosperous communities.

The people who fill your new jobs can still have access to open space, to green fields and forests and lakes and streams. And so you have the opportunity to create living and working arrangements that can be a model for the rest of our Nation..

The people of the Tennessee Valley have a chance to demonstrate that full employment can be achieved without destroying the quality of the land or destroying the Earth.

If the Tennessee Valley can demonstrate a combination of big salaries and prosperity and a clean, friendly atmosphere of southern community living in the years ahead, then you will be an example to all Americans. You're already well on the road to such success. If President Franklin Roosevelt, Senator George Norris, and the other farsighted leaders who worked to establish TVA could be here again to see its current success, they would be as pleased as I am with the new programs TVA is undertaking in the national interest.

As was the case 45 years ago, you face great opportunities for sustained and beneficial growth, designed to conserve and not to waste, destined to lift the economic prosperity and the human spirit of those you serve.

On behalf of the people of the United States of America, I thank you for what you have done.

Note: The President spoke at 11:10 a.m. in the auditorium of the Civic Coliseum. In his opening remarks, he referred to Mayors Randell L. Tyree of Knoxville and A. K. Bissell of Oak Ridge, Ned McWherter, speaker of the Tennessee house of representatives, and Aubrey J. Wagner, former Chairman, and S. David Freeman, Chairman of the Board of Directors, Tennessee Valley Authority.

Jimmy Carter, Knoxville, Tennessee Remarks to Employees of the Tennessee Valley Authority. Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/244920

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