Is It Time to Call the Texas Railroad Commission What It Actually Is?

The powerful state agency is tasked with regulating oil, gas and other energy—not trains. Its own commissioners favor a new name: the Texas Energy Resources Commission. 
Thu December 20, 2012 5:30 am
Flickr | Tim Menzies


Will there ever be a “Texas Energy Resources Commissioner”?

The latest attempt to rename the Texas Railroad Commission began today, with a public hearing before the Texas Sunset Advisory Commission to consider a potential name change, along with several other issues related to the powerful state agency, which as most–but not all–people know, is tasked with regulating oil, gas, and other energy. Not trains.

As Asher Price of the Austin American-Statesman reported, regardless of the Sunset commission recommendations, there would also have to be some legislation too. Similar measures have failed in 2005, 2009 and 2011. Rep. Jonathan Stickland (R-Bedford) has already prefiled such a bill for the upcoming session.

Opposition to the change is based largely on tradition and expense (such as changing letterheads and business cards), while those in favor of it see it see the move as more than just mere nomenclature.

Renaming the Commission “might serve as a litmus test of whether the Legislature has the stomach to beef up the long-limp enforcement arm of the agency …,” Price wrote. “An agency with “energy” in the name is likely to get far more scrutiny than one with the oldtimey-sounding ‘railroad’ moniker.” Price continued:

In a written response to the Sunset staff report, [commission chairman Barry] Smitherman and the agency’s other two commissioners—David Porter and Buddy Garcia, who no longer serves on the commission—said they favored a name change.

“Changing the name of the Commission would help citizens better understand the Commission’s duties and ensure increased transparency for its primary role in overseeing energy exploration and production in Texas,” reads their response. “The Commission should be held to the same standards as all other statewide-elected executive branch officials.”

(Christi Craddick, who replaced Garcia last week, and starts her own elected term in January, seemed open to a new name earlier this year–see below.)

The Sunset report also recommends that the Commission, which critics see as being too pro-industry (what Price called “its historically light touch”) needs to be more aggressive against companies that violate environmental regulations,

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