Press Release

Advocates call on Biden to stop TVA disconnections during pandemic

CONTACT:

Bri Knisley, Appalachian Voices Tennessee Campaign Coordinator, 865-219-3225, brianna@appvoices.org

Aisha Dukule, Press Officer, Friends of the Earth 202-893-3502, adukule@foe.org

Knoxville, TN — Groups in Tennessee and across the country delivered more than 21,500 petition signatures to leaders in Washington DC today, calling on President Biden to issue an Executive Order compelling the Tennessee Valley Authority to stop the inhumane practice of disconnecting families who are unable to pay their electric bills during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Unlike some neighboring states, Tennessee hasn’t implemented a comprehensive moratorium on utility shutoffs during the pandemic. Instead, disconnection moratoriums have been randomly issued and lifted by individual utilities, resulting in thousands of families losing power during an economic and public health crisis. Phone calls for utility bill assistance to Tennessee’s 211 hotline from March 2020 through February 2021 are up 139% when compared to the same 12-month period from the previous year.

“With the race to get everyone vaccinated ahead of rising Covid variants, TVA has an ethical obligation to take action,” said Bri Knisley, Tennessee Campaign Coordinator for Appalachian Voices. “TVA should implement an immediate, utility disconnection moratorium that will reduce infection rates and save lives.”

According to a recent study by the National Bureau of Economic Research, if a nationwide moratorium on utility disconnections had been implemented from March 2019 through November 2020, infections would have been reduced and as many as 14.8% of Covid deaths could have been prevented. TVA serves roughly 10 million people in parts of seven southern states.

“Although thousands of families have lost power during the pandemic, Congress neglected to include a moratorium on utility shutoffs in its latest relief bill,” said Michelle Chan, Vice President of Programs at Friends of the Earth, who also noted that hundreds of organizations have pressed Biden for such a moratorium. “We call on Biden to issue an Executive Order instructing the TVA to stop shutoffs, and to not abandon Tennesseeans and other Southeast residents during a public health crisis.”

Advocates throughout Tennessee have repeatedly called on Governor Bill Lee and the Tennessee Valley Authority to stop disconnections as the state quickly became the Covid capital of the country. After months of inaction by the governor and utility, advocates are now leaning on the White House and calling on President Biden to take executive action on TVA.

Tennesseeans need immediate relief from utility disconnections. More than 11,000 residents have died from coronavirus and cases of Covid variants are being reported in the state. At the start of January, groups in the region sent a memo outlining the president’s authority to issue an executive order regarding TVA which included recommendations for how the utility could provide relief from Covid-19 and bring economic recovery to the Tennessee Valley.

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Appalachian Voices is a leading nonprofit advocate for a healthy environment and just economy in the Appalachian region, and a driving force in America’s shift from fossil fuels to a clean energy future.

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