The Texas Railroad Commission is going through the Sunset review required every 10 years for all state agencies. If approved, the pending legislation (House Bill 2166) would:
A New Name
• Change the name of the agency to the Texas Energy Resources Commission.
Campaign Finance Reform
• Limit the ability of commissioners and candidates to accept campaign contributions except at certain times near elections.
• Limit contributions from parties with contested cases before the commission and requires the commission to maintain a list of contested cases and the parties to each case, and to ensure that hearing notices contain information about prohibited contributions.
• Require the resignation of a sitting commissioner upon announcement of candidacy, or upon becoming a candidate, in any election for office other than commissioner, so long as the commissioner’s unexpired term is more than 18 months. The candidacy or announcement of candidacy will serve as an automatic resignation.
An End to Ex Parte Communications
• Instruct the commission to develop a policy prohibiting ex parte communication between hearings examiners and commissioners, or between hearings examiners and technical staff of the commission who has participated in a hearing, including prohibiting a commissioner from communicating with a hearings examiner other than in a formal public hearing.
A Focus on Safety
• Instruct the commission to adopt guidelines for determining the amount of penalties for pollution under Sec. 81.0531 of the Natural Resources Code.
- There must be differing penalties for differing violations based on seriousness of the violation and hazard to health or safety of the public resulting from the violation.
- Adds the number of times a permittee’s certificate of compliance has been canceled to the list of items that the guidelines must take into account.
• Require the commission to adopt an enforcement policy that employees must follow that pertains to safety and prevention or control of pollution. The policy must include:
- a specific process for classification of violations based on the seriousness of any resulting pollution and any resulting health and safety hazard
- standards on which violations may be dismissed upon coming into compliance and which must be forwarded for enforcement. Employees must take into account violation history.
• Allow the commission to establish fees to pay for the pipeline safety costs.
• Grants pipeline damage prevention jurisdiction over interstate and intrastate hazardous liquid and CO2 pipeline facilities.
• Establishes a $30 million cap on the oil and gas regulation and cleanup fund.
Help for Mineral Owners
• Permit the commission to, upon request of interested party, with approval of other interested parties (maybe there isn’t that much help after all), hold a hearing on a forced-pooling application in or near the county of the proposed unit or allow participation by telephone.
Some of these changes are significant. This is not the final product; the bill has been amended since being introduced and the legislature has time to react to “input” from interested parties.