America lost one of its best public interest agitators last week, and I can’t let him go without a tip of the hat. David Freeman was not a household name, but he certainly was a household hero – a smart, tenacious champion for consumers, clean energy, and common sense over the price gouging, pollution, and general greed of Big Energy.
A top energy policy shaper under three presidents, he went on in the next four decades to be a pioneering, rock-the-boat reformer as head of the Tennessee Valley Authority, New York Power, Texas’ Lower Colorado River Authority, Sacramento Municipal Utility, and Los Angeles Water & Power. At these massive, hidebound, often-corrupt elective utilities, Freeman pushed through democratic reforms, installed pollution controls, abandoned filthy coal-fired projects, and stopped development of nuclear reactors.
Also – way ahead of this time – he actively promoted wind, solar, electric cars, and conservation at every stop. In the 1970s, for example, to the shock of the nation’s power establishment, this maverick declared he wanted “to hook TVA customers to the sun,” and by 1992 he was a leader on the then-fringy politics of climate change, declaring that “The planet cannot afford the continued or increased production of coal or oil.”
Of course, he was despised by the corporate interests and their politicians. “I’ve been called a lot of bad things,” he said not long ago, but “I don’t feel like I’m making my case if I don’t have somebody pissed off at me.”
David Freeman’s rebellious, hard-working heart gave out at 94, but not his public-minded spirit and feistiness, which he passed on to all of us who will now press ahead in his footsteps.