TVA chairman travels business class to Japan at $6,000 a trip

By The Associated Press

Tennessee Valley Authority Chairman Glenn McCullough of Tupelo violated federal travel rules when he flew business class on two trade trips to Japan at a cost of more than $6,000 per roundtrip ticket, a Nashville television station reported.

Airfare for McCullough's 2000 trade mission to Tokyo cost $6,913, while his 2002 trip cost $6,100, WSMV-TV in Nashville reported.

By contrast, Gov. Phil Bredesen flew coach on his recent trade trip to Japan at a cost of $820, the television station said.

McCullough's flights, both of which included segments in first class, were 13 hours and 20 minutes 40 minutes short of a federal rule that allows employees to fly business class if a flight is over 14 hours.

If flights are below that time, employees are supposed to fly coach class.

TVA officials say they bought a business class ticket, which the airline upgraded to first class for free.

McCullough, a former mayor of Tupelo, said his trips to Japan, regardless of the cost, paid off because the meetings resulted in 50 new jobs for Cleveland, Tenn.

“They have since doubled the size of the Cormetech plant in Tennessee,” he said. “That's why I went to Tokyo, to help bring jobs to the Tennessee Valley.”

Cormetech, a Durham, N.C.-based joint venture of Corning Inc. and Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, makes pollution controls for coal-fired power plants. McCullough helped dedicate the Cleveland factory in 2000.

Since 2000, TVA has placed more than $100 million in orders with Cormetech for “selective catalytic reduction” systems that remove smog-forming, nitrogen oxide emissions from TVA smokestacks.

When asked if he couldn't have brought as many jobs to the state by taking a less expensive flight, McCullough replied, “Well, our travel staff arranges for travel, for TVA people, and that's what they did.”

McCullough was criticized earlier this year for spending $6,400 weekly to use the TVA plane to fly between the public utility's headquarters in Knoxville and his home in Tupelo.

McCullough said then that the flights are a necessary part of doing TVA's business.

Flights from Knoxville to Tupelo cost $1,875 one way or $3,750 for a round trip. The plane must return to Knoxville after each trip to Tupelo, resulting in two roundtrips every week that McCullough travels.

Previous TVA chairmen have made their home in Knoxville. After McCullough's board appointment, he and his wife, Laura, decided to maintain their home in Tupelo because they have two teenage sons attending high school there.

TVA staff have reviewed McCullough's travel and determined it conforms to utility regulations. However, TVA is conducting another review at McCullough's request, according to TVA Inspector General Richard Moore.

Click video to hear audio