Legislature needs to fully fund the Texas Railroad Commission
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.
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