If Texas lawmakers follow the recommendation of an advisory panel, the Railroad Commission of Texas (RRC) will be no more and would be replaced by the Texas Oil and Gas Commission. The new body would have one elected commissioner instead of the current three.

In November the Texas Sunset Advisory Commission staff recommended sweeping changes at the 120-year-old RRC, which, despite its name, has nothing to do with railroads and everything to do with oil and gas activities in the Lone Star State (see NGI, Nov 22, 2010). Some lawmakers and municipalities have criticized the RRC for favoring industry over the interests of consumers and the environment. Commissioners have also been criticized for allegedly using their posts as stepping stones to other offices (see NGI, Dec. 20, 2010).

The Sunset Commission is composed of five state House and five Senate members plus two citizen representatives. It is charged with periodic reviews of state agencies, including the RRC. During a meeting Wednesday Sunset members debated the merits of having one commissioner charged with regulating oil and gas as opposed to three.

Sunset citizen member Charles McMahen of Schulenburg said he preferred putting controls in place that would restrict sitting commissioners in their campaigning activities and their ability to accept contributions from political action committees. “I think we need to fix what’s wrong with the three-commission panel as opposed to changing it to one right now,” he said.

Rep. Lamont Jefferson (R-San Antonio) opposed the reduction to one elected regulator and voiced fears that one person would be more likely to err than a three-member body that deliberates issues. “I would sacrifice a bit of efficiency for the sake of accuracy at that level in the state,” Jefferson said.

However, Sunset Commission Chair Glenn Hegar Jr.’s motion to make the change passed by a vote of eight to four. “I think we’ve sacrificed too much for too long in efficiency [at the RRC],” he said. “It’s time to make a change.”

RRC Chair Michael Williams was quick to praise the panel’s action.

“I applaud Chairman Hegar and the Sunset Commission members for their decision placing the authority and responsibility of America’s premier state energy agency in the hands of a single statewide elected official,” Williams said. “Texans will get undivided leadership, direction and accountability. Smaller, cheaper, faster government will save taxpayer dollars. The Texas Railroad Commission will become an even stronger advocate for American energy security. I’m confident this is in the best interest of Texas.”

The Texas Alliance of Energy Producers said it supported the change from three commissioners to one as well as the name change, although it noted that it had “no problem with the current three commissioners.”

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