Why the TVA remains unique: Interest groups and the defeat of New Deal River planning

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Although scholars cite the Tennessee Valley Authority as one of President Franklin Roosevelt's major reform programs, the valley authority model did not replace the limited-purpose water programs of the Bureau of Reclamation and the Army Corps of Engineers. State-centered theorists hold that reformers are most likely to succeed during periods such as the New Deal era, when they are supported by a democratized polity and when they dominate Congress and the administration. This paper shows that in river policy, the strength of opposing interest groups also mattered. The TVA bill was passed in 1933 because reformers skillfully coordinated action at potential choke points and weakened the already disorganized opposing lobbyists. In 1936, however, after regrouping, opposing river lobbyists and legislators took advantage of the New Dealers' spending mood by expanding the Corps' flood control program. They also helped defeat further valley authorities, the most promising of the New Deal water policy reforms.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)163-182
Number of pages20
JournalRural Sociology
Issue number2
StatePublished - 2002

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Sociology and Political Science


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