A Push for Reform in the Texas Railroad Commission

It is expected that the Texas Railroad Commission will undergo upcoming serious changes. These changes include renaming the agency and replacing those in office with gubernatorial appointees who will only work part-time. Typically, being a railroad commissioner is one way to get into a powerful, high profile job because it usually leads to political office.

In an effort to regulate trains in Texas, the Texas Railroad Commission was formed by the end of the 19th century, thereby making it one of the oldest regulatory groups. However, today it has evolved into a world energy pricing superpower that even OPEC modeled itself after. The three elected Texas Commissioners serve six-year terms, staggered so that there is one on the ballot every two years.

Currently, the Texas Railroad Commissioners regulate quite a bit as the industries that fall under their umbrella include gas, oil, surface mining, pipelines and gas utilities. None of this is really evident by the Texas Railroad Commission title alone. Therefore, a reform seeks to change its name to Texas Oil and Gas Commission and enlist five appointed board members in lieu of the three elected officials.

Money continues to pour into whoever holds the commissioners’ positions, making it bothersome for reformers who seek to take the political clout off the ballot and rename the commission. The Sunset Advisory, a legislative agency made up of state lawmakers who reviews the commission’s performance every 12 years, brought up that by replacing elected officials with appointees, will hopefully reduce the conflict of interests that have made these positions enticing to power-hungry politicians.

Up to even the most recent elected commissioners, some went on to become ambassadors; some have achieved or are running for Senate seats. It is hoped by some that the Texas Railroad Commission will be abolished altogether and its replacement will instead focus on efficiency, conservatory and safety programs. The oil and gas industry are seeking to fight these reforms and probably will just opt for the name changes.

State Rep. Lon Burnam (D-Fort Worth) gives the Texas Railroad Commission a very unsatisfactory grade regarding the Sunset Advisory’s report.

“We need to change the way the commissioners are formed,” Burnam said. “We need to change the fact that this is probably the most corrupt regulatory agency in the state of Texas, and that’s hinted at very clearly in this report.”

Gregory D. Jordan is an Austin business attorney, Austin employment lawyer, and Austin business litigation lawyer. To learn more, visit Theaustintriallawyer.com.

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