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Texas RRC Chief Endorses Name Change; Four Candidates Face Runoff

The race to fill an open seat on the Railroad Commission of Texas (RRC) is down to two Republicans and two Democrats heading for runoff May 24. Meanwhile, the agency is mulling a slate of changes, including a name change, recently recommended by a state review panel.

In the Republican runoff, Houston real estate mogul Gary Gates will face Wayne Christian, a former state representative from Center, TX, and owner of a financial services business.

The Christian campaign has said that Gates has failed to maintain some of his rental properties in Houston. The Gates camp has charged that Christian wants to "mandate" renewable energy and "limit certain types of oil and gas drilling." The Austin American Statesman has endorsed Gates in the GOP race, saying "...he's more likely than Christian to restore some small balance to the agency's mission." The Texas Oil & Gas Association Good Government Committee has endorsed Christian.

On the Democratic ticket, retired San Antonio public school teacher Grady Yarbrough will face former journalist Cody Garrett. Yarbrough has gotten the nod from The Dallas Morning News, which said Garrett "...is full of bombast about reining in the energy industry but seems more of a party loyalist than a thoughtful policymaker." The Morning News, noted Yarbrough's age, 79, and said he wasn't likely to use the RRC post as a launching pad for higher office, as others have done in the past. Yarbrough has a "...seemingly genuine commitment to be a consumer voice..." on the RRC, the paper said.

Regardless who wins the runoff races, the Republican is favored to win in the general election in November, given the political makeup of Texas. The winner will fill the seat currently held by RRC Chairman David Porter, whose six-year term is ending.

The four remaining candidates were culled from an initial slate of 11: seven Republicans, three Democrats and one Libertarian (see Daily GPI,Dec. 16, 2015).

Meanwhile, RRC Executive Director Kimberly Corley responded to state Sunset Advisory Commission recommendations for the agency (see Daily GPI,May 2). She wrote earlier this month that she supports the recommendation to change the commission's name to the Texas Energy Resources Commission and continue its operation for 12 more years. However, she wrote that a name change should be addressed in separate legislation in light of questions related to the state Constitution. The RRC, despite its name, has nothing to do with railroads.

Corley rejected the suggestion that contested hearings and oversight of natural gas utilities should be moved from the commission to the State Office of Administrative Hearings and the Public Utility Commission of Texas, respectively. "Moving a working function of the commission to another agency would carry unknown risks and costs associated with such a transfer at the expense of Texas ratepayers," Corley said.

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