Environmental lobbyists and activists are pushing for changes at the Texas Railroad, including changing the name of the agency.
The Texas Railroad Commission (RRC) is up for a sunset review by the next Texas Legislature which begins in January 2017. A coalition of “green” organizations are hosting a public forum in Grapevine, Texas, on Tuesday night to discuss possible changes to the agency and to search for a new name, The Dallas Morning News’ Jeff Mosier reported on Monday.
The RRC does not regulate railroads, but rather the state’s oil and gas business. At one time, the state’s oldest agency did regulate the powerful railroad industry. The final control over the railroads was moved to the Texas Department of Transportation by the Texas Legislature in 2005, according to the RRC website.
Since that time the agency has been focused on the boom-and-bust Texas energy industry. Now these environmental organizations believe it is time to make major changes to the way the group does business and the name by which it is called.
Mosier wrote that the RRC has been in the cross-hairs of these environmental groups for quite some time. “It’s an uphill battle. There’s no doubt,” Dallas Public Citizen representative Rita Beving told the Dallas newspaper. “We may have to go for incremental measures.”
Even the Sunset Commission has been critical of some aspects of the agency. An April 2016 report said the agency “continues to struggle to provide reliable data to show the effectiveness of its efforts. Basic questions such as how many severe violations occurred, what percentage of violations were repeat violations, and how many operators with severe violations did not face legal enforcement last year remain unanswered.”
The town hall meeting in Grapevine, scheduled for Tuesday evening, is being organized by Public Citizen, the Sierra Club, and Earthworks. The event is scheduled to run from 7 to 9 p.m. at the Grapevine Convention Center. Their goal is to energize people to testify in Austin during the next session.
The Sunset Commission made recommendations for small changes to the organization in its April report.
Those changes include:
- Better tracking of violations and repeat violations;
- Developing a “strategic plan for the Oil and Gas Division that tracks and measures the effectiveness of monitoring and enforcement”;
- Transferring gas utilities regulation to the Public Utility Commission;
- Transferring contested administrative hearings to the State Office of Administrative Hearings;
- Increasing the bond requirement that funds the cost of plugging and remediation of abandoned wells. Those bonds covered 15.9 percent of the costs in 2015; and
- Giving the agency the authority to enforce damage prevention rules of interstate pipelines.
RRC Commissioner Ryan Sitton responded that the Sunset Commission had some “constructive recommendations.”
The Sunset staff report and our agency’s response are the beginning of an important process that I’m confident will make this agency more efficient and effective,” Sitton said.
Many believe the historic RRC name is kept to keep the public eye off of the agency. As for the agency’s name, the Sunset Commission recommended changing the name to the Texas Energy Resources Commission. Continued efforts to change the name in past legislative sessions have failed.