SENATE APPROVES RAILROAD COMMISSION REAUTHORIZATION, NAME CHANGE
(AUSTIN) — The Senate passed Thursday the sunset bill for the Railroad Commission of Texas, reauthorizing the existence of the agency for the next ten years. All state agencies undergo a periodic review of scope and duties, called the Sunset Process, in order to make sure the agency is both necessary and efficient. The Sunset Advisory Commission, made up of a panel of Senators, Representatives and members of the public, make a number of recommendations for reform that are then drafted into a bill and put before the Legislature for approval. This session, one of those agencies up for review was the Railroad Commission.
Likely the most noticeable change the bill, SB 212 by Jacksonville Senator Robert Nichols, would make is to rename the agency the Texas Energy Resource Commission. When the Railroad Commission was founded in 1891, it only oversaw and regulated the railroads that ran through the state. In the early 20th century, its purview was extended to the oil and gas industry. Beginning with the oil boom in the 1930's, the agency devoted more and more of its resources to oil and gas oversight and regulation, and today that is the agency's primary function. In fact, it has nothing to do with the railroad system in Texas any more. Lawmakers have worried that the current agency name is confusing to voters, who don't realize the influence and scope of the agency. Since the three agency commissioners are statewide elected officials, voters need to be aware of the significance of their vote, they argue.
The sunset bill also included some ethics reforms for the agency's three commissioners. In order to avoid conflicts of interest, where commissioners might receive money from the very industries they are charged with regulating, sitting commissioners would be barred from seeking or accepting campaign donations earlier than 17 months before election day. It would also task the agency with making a set of rules and penalties for ethics violations. Other reforms in the bill include giving the agency the power to regulate pipelines that cross the state border as well as the creation of a pipeline permit fee to avoid potential spills or other related environmental issues.
The bill now heads to the House for consideration.
The Senate will reconvene Friday, May 3 at 10 a.m.