Watchdog: Federal utility spent nearly $40M on private aircraft

Watchdog: Federal utility spent nearly $40M on private aircraft
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A federal energy utility is under investigation for allegedly purchasing multiple private jets and a helicopter once used by Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones.

Government auditors are looking at nearly $40 million in purchases by the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA), Bloomberg News first reported Wednesday.

An investigation by energy watchdog group The Southern Alliance for Clean Energy (SACE) found that the utility used the rate-payer funding to purchase new corporate jets, airplanes and a luxury helicopter.

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Details in the Federal Aviation Administration's registry show that the utility authorized the purchasing of 19 aircraft over the past two and half years.

TVA spokesman Jim Hopson said private aircraft travel is the only safe and timely means to travel through the authority's 80,000 square miles that span across seven states.

"We believe this is a valid use of the aircraft," Hopson told Bloomberg.

Hopson told Bloomberg that the utility's inspector general is looking into their use.

SACE called for a full investigation into the purchases and TVA's CEO Bill JohnsonWilliam (Bill) Leslie JohnsonOvernight Energy: Trump pick to lead mining regulator withdraws | Watchdog questions ethics of ,000 in Zinke concert tickets | House votes to ease natural gas exports Greens win court case seeking stronger air pollution rules for brick makers Overnight Defense: VA pick breezes through confirmation hearing | House votes to move on defense bill negotiations | Senate bill would set 'stringent' oversight on North Korea talks MORE to resign Tuesday. Johnson is one of the highest-paid U.S. federal workers, making $6.5 million annually.

"We are calling for a full investigation into these excessive purchases which have clearly taken place under Bill Johnson’s watch,” said SACE Executive Director Stephen Smith in a statement. “Buying extravagant jets and helicopters is a hijacking of the TVA act, whose stated purpose is to protect the residential customers, not buy flashy toys for millionaire executives or cut backroom deals with private industry."