Leg­is­la­ture needs to fully fund the Texas Rail­road Com­mis­sion

Austin American-Statesman - - VIEWPOINTS - DAR­RELL CHAMPEAU, CEDAR PARK

Re­cent sto­ries high­light­ing the fund­ing strug­gles of the Texas Rail­road Com­mis­sion should serve as fur­ther no­tice to the pub­lic and the mem­bers of the Texas Leg­is­la­ture that we face a crit­i­cal choice this leg­isla­tive ses­sion about the pri­or­i­ties of our state gov­ern­ment and whether our ac­tions will match our rhetoric when it comes to safety, over­sight and ac­count­abil­ity. As the Rail­road Com­mis­sion un­der­goes the sun­set re­view process — a process that be­gan in 2010 — it is clear that the agency is un­der­staffed and un­der­funded.

The Rail­road Com­mis­sion has re­quested an ad­di­tional $45 mil­lion in op­er­at­ing funds this ses­sion. It should re­ceive ev­ery bit of it. Pass­ing the Rail­road Com­mis­sion sun­set rec­om­men­da­tions for reau­tho­riz­ing the agency and en­act­ing the changes it calls for must be a pri­or­ity of the Leg­is­la­ture this ses­sion.

The House Energy Re­sources Com­mit­tee will take up the is­sue on Mon­day when it holds a hear­ing on House Bill 1818, re­gard­ing con­tin­u­ing and/or sun­set­ting the Texas Rail­road Com­mis­sion.

The sun­set re­view process has pro­vided a unique op­por­tu­nity to strengthen this im­por­tant agency. For those not fa­mil­iar with the process, the sun­set process al­lows the Leg­is­la­ture to re­view a state agency, de­ter­mine what’s be­ing done well, and also where the tax­pay­ers would be bet­ter served with im­prove­ments to the agency.

In 2010, I tes­ti­fied be­fore the Sun­set Com­mis­sion on ways the Rail­road Com­mis­sion could have been im­proved. Clearly, with an over­whelmed staff and an an­ti­quated com­puter sys­tem it was be­com­ing more dif­fi­cult to con­duct busi­ness in a timely man­ner and in a fash­ion that would en­sure the bal­ance between op­er­a­tional pri­or­i­ties and reg­u­la­tory over­sight.

Fol­low­ing a rig­or­ous re­view that be­gan in 2010, the Rail­road Com­mis­sion is a dif­fer­ent place to­day than it was then. The staff re­mains hard­work­ing and ded­i­cated, and the com­puter sys­tem has been par­tially up­graded but still needs fur­ther de­vel­op­ment. Most im­por­tantly, the lead­er­ship cares about the agency and takes its re­spon­si­bil­i­ties to the peo­ple of Texas very se­ri­ously.

Hav­ing weath­ered the same down­turn that af­fected all of us in the oil and gas in­dus­try these last few years, it’s my firm be­lief that with this ad­di­tional fund­ing the com­mis­sion will be po­si­tioned to bet­ter serve the peo­ple of Texas and to over­see an in­dus­try that is ever-chang­ing and evolv­ing at a more and more rapid pace.

To­day’s re­al­ity is that crude oil and nat­u­ral gas pro­duced in Texas are re­spon­si­ble for our na­tion’s dra­mat­i­cally re­duced green­house gas foot­print, which has fallen to lev­els not seen in 20 or more years. The lev­els of re­duc­tion are sub­stan­tially greater than those achieved by all of Europe com­bined. In ad­di­tion, new tech­nol­ogy has fun­da­men­tally changed the global geopo­lit­i­cal land­scape as the U.S. be­comes less and less de­pen­dent on for­eign im­ports.

But those re­al­i­ties com­pete with other re­al­i­ties, such as the con­stantly shift­ing at­ti­tudes about fos­sil fuel de­vel­op­ment and new tech­nolo­gies open­ing up new fron­tiers in oil and gas de­vel­op­ment.

And, as our state pop­u­la­tion con­tin­ues to grow, new ques­tions and con­cerns arise from the folks liv­ing close to well sites, pipe­lines and pro­duc­tion fa­cil­i­ties.

Ask­ing an un­der­funded com­mis­sion to con­duct the re­quired level of over­sight with less fund­ing in­evitably lays the ground­work for real prob­lems. Fair and ef­fec­tive over­sight that car­ries with it ac­count­abil­ity and re­spon­si­bil­ity should be the goal of any reg­u­la­tory agency and must be the goal of the Rail­road Com­mis­sion. Pro­vid­ing the ex­tra fund­ing re­quested by the com­mis­sion will go a long way to­ward ac­com­plish­ing that goal and keep­ing the en­vi­ron­ment safe and the econ­omy hum­ming as the in­dus­try re­cov­ers from the re­cent down­turn.

I hope you will join me in ask­ing our state leg­is­la­tors to ap­prove the Sun­set Com­mis­sion’s rec­om­men­da­tion to reau­tho­rize the Texas Rail­road Com­mis­sion and to in­crease the agency’s fund­ing so that it can per­form the func­tions that the peo­ple of Texas re­quire of it.

Re: Feb. 15 commentary, “Bishop Vásquez: Do not pu­n­ish com­mu­ni­ties that care for im­mi­grants.”

Many think of hate as be­ing the op­po­site of love. More to the point, fear is love’s op­po­site, and

Re: Feb. 12 ar­ti­cle, “Lawyer: Pro-Trump mind­set be­hind voter fraud sen­tence.”

I have never read such an un­just ver­dict in Texas as “Bag­ging a Uni­corn,” the story of Rosa Maria Ortega get­ting eight years in prison for mis­tak­enly vot­ing while hav­ing a green card — and she will be de­ported when she gets re­leased. Brought here as a baby, raised with­out her mother and fa­ther, and think­ing she was do­ing her civic duty and be­liev­ing she had the right to vote, she did vote. She is not a crim­i­nal that de­serves this.

Gov. Greg Ab­bott or Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump should par­don her im­me­di­ately and apol­o­gize to her. The Tar­rant County jury and At­tor­ney Gen­eral Ken Pax­ton ought to be de­ported if they don’t right this aw­ful wrong. How can this be al­lowed to hap­pen in the United States of Amer­ica? Ruin her life and her fam­ily’s for an er­ror?

DEB­O­RAH CAN­NON / AMER­I­CAN STATES­MAN 2016

A state­ment from a Joseph fam­ily mem­ber is read out­side the Travis court­house in May 2016 at a rally to protest a grand jury’s de­ci­sion not to in­dict an Austin of­fi­cer.

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