Energy & Environment

A State Agency’s ‘Misleading’ Name Is OK With Texas Lawmaker

In Austin, a combative hearing over whether the way Texas regulates the oil & gas industry needs some major improvement. One message: Don’t mess with the Railroad Commission.

It’s become almost routine: every few years state lawmakers consider — but usually decline to make changes — to the Railroad Commission of Texas, the agency which regulates oil & gas drilling.

And so it was again Monday as lawmakers on the Sunset Advisory Commission (which periodically reviews the performance of state agencies) heard from their staff members who’d compiled a report on improving the Railroad Commission.

First up, a name change: the century-old commission hasn’t regulated railroads for years.

“Change its name to the Texas Energy Resources Commission. The agency’s outdated name….misleads the public,” said Sunset Commission staffer Amy Trost.

But the name change proposal was quickly attacked as unnecessary by lawmakers who came to the defense of the industry. One said it didn’t matter if the name misled the public.

“It’s an historical name. Let people think it has to do with railroads going up and down. It doesn’t take long to figure it out if you’re in the business,” said Rep. Dan Flynn, a Republican from an area of East Texas rich with natural gas wells. 

The legislative staff also addressed a long-time criticism of the Railroad Commission: that it’s too close to the oil & gas industry it regulates with all three elected commissioners having worked in the industry.

Legislative staffers suggested disputes between the industry and citizens should be handed to another state agency with no ties to the industry.

“It certainly removes the temptation and allegations of the lack of independence but I cannot tell you that it isn’t independent where it is right now,” said Ken Levine, director of the Sunset staff.

The Sunset Advisory Commission will take what it learned from Monday’s hearing and come up with recommendations and vote on them this November. The recommendations will then go to the Texas Legislature for consideration in its next session that begin this coming January.

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Dave Fehling

Dave Fehling

Director of News and Public Affairs

As Director of News and Public Affairs, Dave Fehling manages the radio news operation at Houston's NPR station. Previously, he was a reporter at the station, covering the oil & gas industry and its impact on the environment. He won top state honors for in-depth and investigative reporting as well...

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