State advisory panel critical of Railroad Commission performance

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by BRETT SHIPP

WFAA

Posted on December 16, 2010 at 2:35 AM

Updated Thursday, Dec 16 at 12:19 PM

DALLAS - The agency in charge of regulating fossil fuels in Texas may itself soon become a dinosaur.

Several members of the Texas Sunset Advisory Commission strongly suggested Wednesday that the Texas Railroad Commission is headed for an overhaul.

The report from the staff of the Sunset Advisory Commission's reads like an indictment. The state's oldest regulatory body and its three elected commissioners have been accused of being too cozy with the oil and gas industry they regulate.

The report recommends an agency overhaul and the abolishment of the three commissioners, to be replaced by a five member appointed board.

One of the key criticisms is that the commissioners "rely on campaign contributions from the regulated industry." But, the published report was not as critical as the remarks at a hearing Wednesday from some on the bi-partisan Sunset Advisory panel.

Sen. John Whitmire, (D) Houston, blasted commissioners Michael Williams and Elizabeth Aimes Jones for openly running for U.S. Senate while they should be running an agency.

"And people are recommending doing away with the commission as it is currently constituted because of your practice of running for office and Mr. Williams and many before you," Whitmire said during Wednesday's hearing.

Also upsetting to the Sunset Panel was that when staff members sought to get input on their proposed recommendations, the Railroad Commission and their staff were allegedly uncooperative.

Several lawmakers on the panel made their feelings clear, the agency is headed for a shakeup.

While most oil and gas industry representatives protested the recommendations, some said they support all of the proposed changes.

"And yet, this commission is so broken down, so opaque, so non-transparent that we don't believe it's up to the challenges that face us," said Obie O'Brien, vice president of Governmental Relations at Apache Corp., a small natural gas production company from West Texas.

Also at the hearing, several private North Texas citizens, who all testified in support of the agency overhaul.

The 12-member legislative panel hearing their testimony will vote on the recommendations next month.

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