I know all of our learned readers already know that the Texas Railroad Commission (RRC) has nothing to do with railroads, but instead regulates the Texas oil and gas industry. Evidently some Texans don’t realize this, and the Commission still gets complaints about train noise.
So why not just change the name to something like the Texas Energy Resources Commission? A similar name change has been suggested in several of the last legislative sessions, all to no avail. Utility companies complain that using the term “energy” would also confuse the public to think the RRC regulated public utility companies. One commissioner suggested tradition demands keeping the RRC moniker. Evidently there is more than tradition at stake as some sections of the Texas Constitution refer to the commission by name. Would we have to have constitutional amendments voted on by the public? Maybe the commission just has to put up with the train complaints.
Last session the Sunset Advisory Commission (SAC) recommended the name change along with a number of substantive changes, but the RRC sunset bill didn’t pass so the SAC has a new staff report out for this session. They have abandoned last session's recommendation that the commission be reorganized by eliminating the three elected commissioners and having one appointed regulator — it’s that recommendation that likely caused the bill to stall last session. The current year staff report makes a number of recommendations, including:
- Limit political fundraising by commissioners: it's “hard to fully divorce contributions from decisions with tens of thousands of dollars donated every month,” said one witness
- Resign to run requirement
- Adopt recusal rules
- Require the use of the State Office of Administrative Hearings for contested cases
- Authorize a pipeline permit fee and ensure fees are sufficient to fund the Pipeline Safety Program
- Improve enforcement
- A better watch on oil pipelines and pipeline safety and construction
- End the commissioners marketing of propane
- More money for oil and gas clean-up
For more on the SAC report on the RRC check out this NPR article, which includes links to the full SAC staff RRC report.