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Alumna Balances Environment with Economic Development at TVA

Photo credit: Lee Coursey. Photo retrieved via Flickr under a Creative Commons license.

Navigating the mires of federal bureaucracy and the mountains and valleys of the southeastern United States is all in a day’s work for alumna Brenda Brickhouse, vice president of environment and energy policy at the TVA, or Tennessee Valley Authority.

In layman’s terms, her job is to look forward and move the TVA, a government-owned independent corporation, in a direction that benefits both the environment and the people of the Tennessee Valley.

Brenda Brickhouse
Brenda Brickhouse.

“We’re serving 9 million of the poorest people in the nation,” says Brickhouse, a graduate of NC State’s Master of Public Administration program. “Our mission is unique and expansive, and it’s not just environmental — it’s social and it’s economic. We stand on those three pillars.”

Those 9 million people, residing in Tennessee, Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, Kentucky, Georgia, North Carolina and Virginia, depend on the TVA for clean, reliable utilities. That has been its goal since the organization’s establishment in the 1930s, but it has expanded to include restoring depleted land and creating markets for companies of all sizes to come to the area.

“We’ve added between 50,000 and 70,000 jobs in the past few years by working with state and local folks,” Brickhouse says. “We’re getting them ready to compete in that world and to understand what sorts of infrastructure they need to attract economic activity. We give them a helping hand and we give them support.”

At the same time, Brickhouse says the TVA is rising to the environmental challenges of today.

“In the last few years we’ve been pretty aggressive shutting down our coal plants and opening more gas plants,” she says. “And we recruit companies to fill those spaces with things like data centers, so we’re also creating jobs; our carbon footprint has decreased dramatically.”

Marrying environmental responsibilities with social and economic development has been a perfect fit for Brickhouse, who graduated in 1980 with an undergraduate degree in forestry and in 1988 with a master’s degree in public administration and environmental planning.

“Earth Day happened in the early 70s and I was on board with the whole emerging environmental movement,” she says. “The curricula of the forestry degree attracted me because it was a good technical degree, and it touched on both land and economic management.”