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As for flood control, the TVA has flooded an estimated 730,000 acres—more land than the entire state of Rhode Island. Most directly affected by TVA flooding were the thousands of people forced out of their homes. And while farm owners received cash settlements for their condemned property, black tenant farmers received nothing.
As one might expect with a government monopoly that can ignore so many laws, there have been frequent reports of waste and possible corruption. According to TVA's own inspector general, these include lucrative executive perks, cozy consulting contracts, costly building leases, and much more. The TVA spent $15 billion building nine nuclear power plants—and none of them worked. The TVA hired a former Navy admiral to fix them, but he was charged with cronyism and bad judgment. Congressional investigations followed.
Although the TVA was established to build dams, it has expanded relentlessly (as bureaucracies do) to include 11 coal-fired power plants and three nuclear power plants as well as 49 dams—apparently with ambitions to expand the TVA's power-generating monopoly beyond the Tennessee Valley. Among other things, this has raised environmental concerns. Ralph Nader charged that the TVA "has the poorest safety record with [nuclear] reactors." On December 22, 2008, at the TVA's Kingston, Tennessee coal-fired plant, the dike of a 40-acre holding pond broke, spilling as much as a billion gallons of coal sludge with elevated levels of arsenic. The sludge covered some 300 acres up to six feet deep, damaging homes and wrecking a train. This spill reportedly was much bigger than the oil spill from the Exxon Valdez tanker that went aground in Alaska.
As the TVA's long record illustrates, voters rarely receive what they signed-off on when it comes to massive government programs. Despite all of the harm it has done, the TVA has grown into a powerful and politically unstoppable special interest that has done a grave disservice to the Tennessee Valley. Too bad today's advocates of a new New Deal seem determined not to learn from their predecessors' mistakes.