House should lead on natural gas cases

You know it’s bad when …

▪ Two years ago, the Legislature declined to reform the way cities and the monopoly natural gas companies that supply their residents resolve disagreements over rates. The Legislature represents the people of Texas, right?

▪ The Railroad Commission, apparently not content to let the Legislature lead the way, passed a number of rule changes in December, sharply altering the disputed rate resolution process. Perhaps not surprisingly — it is the Texas Railroad Commission, after all — the rule changes favored that gas suppliers over the cities.

▪ State Rep. Jim Keffer, R-Eastland, the chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee, is miffed that the commission would countermand the will of the Legislature and filed House Bill 3749 to reverse key portions of the new rules.

▪ HB 3749 passed out of the House Energy Resources Committee April 30, but end-of-session deadlines are approaching and the bill has not come up for floor debate. That makes it look like the House doesn’t mind if the Railroad Commission leads it around by the nose.

The Texas Tribune told the story of the bill’s status Tuesday. It’s just one example of how important things sometimes get lost as a legislative session nears its end.

Cities and the natural gas monopolies that serve them long have negotiated rates. When they can’t agree, they take the matter to the Railroad Commission for resolution. It’s as civilized as these things can be.

But the attorneys who handle the sometimes bitterly contested rate cases charge a lot of money. Nothing wrong with that, either. They earn it.

Cities usually band together in these cases. When their efforts result in lower rates, all cities served will benefit, so they split the costs.

The commission says it’s trying to drive down litigation costs, and only those cities that are active in the rate case should pay. That means other cities can get a free ride, and fewer will join the cases.

The House should pass Keffer’s bill. Quickly. The session ends June 1.