TRC Calls for March Conference on Natural Gas

Texas regulators, legislators, industry and consumers will share a forum in March to voice concerns about the state's high natural gas prices and the coming advent of deregulation. The conference, tentatively set for the end of March in Austin, won unanimous support from the Texas Railroad Commission --- but one commissioner suggested "less talk, more action" to resolve issues as quickly as possible.

No specific date or time has been set, according to TRC's Melissa Columbus, but she said that already, staff is working on the program's details. The meeting would be open to the public and include "all facets of industry," including producers, the service industry, gathering and transportation, storage, marketers, local distribution companies, local and state regulators and consumers.

"The commission and legislators have been taking numerous calls from consumers throughout the state with their complaints," said Commissioner Charles Matthews. "We have got to address this issue and work toward solutions to avoid high natural gas prices." Several state legislators joined Matthews and the other two commissioners to testify in support of the conference.

Matthews said the conference would give the commission "the opportunity to gather information, from the producer to the consumer, to help develop policy and recommendations to the legislature this session to use in making legislative decisions on energy issues, especially natural gas."

Commissioner Tony Garza, who voted to hold the conference, said that "with consumers facing some of the highest natural gas bills in recent memory, there's an urgent need to offer answers and solutions that deal with the problem over both the short- and long-term." However, he stressed that the initial proposal could be too "broad," and suggested that areas should be targeted so that the TRC could "take action and best offer realistic solutions."

Said Garza, "we simply can't get bogged down just talking about natural gas issues. The commission needs to propose real solutions that lead to real results."

Carolyn Davis, Houston

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