The Railroad Commission of Texas is one of the most powerful state agencies, with three commissioners elected in statewide votes and given substantial authority over key private property rights.
Yet its name is misleading and sure to confuse people. The commission has nothing to do with railroads.
It regulates the oil and gas industry in a state where oil and gas are fundamental to the economy.
The deceptiveness of the name is emblematic of the commission’s long-held attitude toward the people of Texas. So far as the Railroad Commission is concerned, Texas leaders’ oft-spoken praise of transparency in government is only lip service.
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Proposals to change the name to the Texas Energy Resources Commission, a simple nod to transparency, have failed in the past three legislative sessions.
So have proposals such as pipeline permit fees to help pay for oversight of a growing network of oil and gas pipelines.
Those recommendations should be back before the Legislature next year as, for the third time since 2011, the commission undergoes the sunset review required of state agencies.
Typically, those reviews are about a dozen years apart, but lawmakers can’t seem to get this one done.
Commissioner David Porter filed for re-election last year, then withdrew abruptly in December. Seven other Republicans are on the primary election ballot.
Leading the Republicans in campaign money to spend is Rosenberg real estate investor Gary Gates, who loaned his campaign $2 million last year and still had $1.1 million cash on hand as of Feb. 1.
Gates also has key endorsements, including that of State Rep. Jim Keffer, R-Eastland, chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee. Keffer’s name and reputation give Gates instant credibility.
Second in campaign money is John Greytok, an Austin attorney with $41,000 cash on hand Feb. 1. He has received significant support from Bob McNair, owner of the Houston Texans. Greytok is a registered lobbyist for the team.
On the Democratic primary ballot is Lon Burnam, a former Fort Worth state representative. Other contenders are Tyler educator Grady Yarbrough and Cody Garrett, a former state Capitol staffer and political campaign worker from Austin.
Gates and the Republicans shun federal regulatory overreach and push Texas control over mineral resources. Burnam and the Democrats decry the commission’s lack of transparency and its light regulatory touch.
The Star-Telegram Editorial Board recommends Gary Gates in the Republican primary and Lon Burnam in the Democratic primary for Texas Railroad Commission.