TVA's groundbreaking role

Established by Act of Congress in 1933, the TVA was an unprecedented experiment in regional planning and development, covering the 41,000-square-mile Tennessee River Basin. Anchored on the Muscle Shoals, Ala., hydroelectric facility built during World War I, the system now includes 42 dams, a number of coal-fired power plants, and several nuclear power plants. Perhaps its most famous facility is at Oak Ridge, Tenn., site of early work on the atomic bomb as well as peaceful uses of atomic energy.

One of TVA's earliest accomplishments was to provide cheap electricity to an economically backward region, thus influencing the spread of rural electric cooperatives.

In its own region, TVA -- sometimes using high-handed tactics -- tackled such problems as mosquito control, exploitation of minerals like coal, commercial and sports development of fish and wildlife resources, flood and erosion control, social and educational programs, provision of recreation facilities, and regional industrialization.

In recent years, environmentalists have attacked TVA because of air pollution from its coal-fired power plants (which produce some 80 percent of the system's electricity), perceived bad effects on wildlife of some of its dams, and safety problems at its nuclear facilities.

TVA spawned a ``golden age'' of public power and navigation projects across the US, which seems to be ending with completion of the controversial Tennessee-Tombigbee project connecting interior waterways to the Gulf of Mexico.

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