Public Citizen Texas, an environmental watchdog group, has issued its comments on the Sunset Commission’s report recommending changes at the Texas Railroad Commission. Its comments can be viewed here. The comments largely agree with the Sunset Commission’s recommendations, but in several areas recommend additional reforms. I think Public Citizen’s comments on lack of transparency are particularly appropriate:
There is an astounding lack of transparency at the RRC compared to other states. Many have searchable databases and statistics on their websites relating to inspections, complaints, and enforcement actions, by individual operator and in the aggregate. While the RRC is busy on social media putting out self-serving tweets, no useful statistics or information regarding these issues is readily available on their website. Examples of better practices:
Colorado has easily searchable databases and a wealth of information available online: inspection/incident inquiries; facility inquiries; spill data, updated monthly; spill analysis by year; water-well data, updated monthly; field inspection reports; quarterly and annual enforcement reports.In Pennsylvania, the public can search for individual permits, operators,wells/facilities, inspections, and by program, oil and gas production information, permits issued, drilling commence date, county data, operator specific data, as well as inspections, violations and enforcement actions.And notably, much more information regarding enforcement issues can be found on the TCEQ [Texas Commission on Environmental Quality] website.
The Austin Statesman posted an article yesterday on the RRC’s sunset review, “Should the Texas Railroad Commission Get a New Name,” by Asher Price. That’s one of the recommendations of the Sunset Commission. The Legislature has failed to pass bills to change the RRC’s name in 2005, 2009, 2011, 2013, and 2015. You’d think this would not be a controversial issue. But industry has consistently opposed the change. Christi Craddick, daughter of Tom Craddick and Chair of the RRC, opposes the change. She said that “as regulator, I’d tell you that a name change for the commission is simply not our priority today. It’s costly, and we should be directing any additional funding to items critical to our operations such as (information technology) improvements and staff salaries.” The cost is changing the RRC’s stationery and signage. Stationery is changed every time a new Commissioner is elected.
The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality was formerly named the Texas Natural Resources Conservation Commission, or TNRCC. The Legislature changed its name because TNRCC came to be anounced “Train-wreck.”
Asher Price wrote another excellent piece in the Statesman last March, documenting the revolving door at the agency, where ex-commissioners and RRC staff leave the agency to get lucrative jobs lobbying for the industry.
The Sunset Commission’s hearing on Sunset staff recommendations will be this Monday.