Having served on the commission charged with overseeing energy production in Texas for only two months, I recognize that I’m the “new kid on the block.” But people, including legislators, continually ask my opinion about an important topic; should the name of the Railroad Commission (RRC) be changed? After spending months visiting with people from across the state ranging from grassroots groups to local elected officials to industry leaders, I’m more convinced than ever that we need to rename the agency that regulates energy production in Texas.
The RRC has nothing to do with trains! Did you know that? If not, you aren’t alone. There’s a woefully inadequate level of understanding regarding what the RRC does. When we researched the issue during my campaign, we found only 3-5% of voters were aware of the critical role the RRC plays in making sure energy in Texas is produced safely, responsibly and efficiently. After seeing this data, I spent a large part of my campaign budget and my only radio ad in the runoff informing voters that most RRC activities are focused on regulating oil and gas production in Texas. That means that while Texas energy production has tripled in size over the last 6 years, contributed over $15 billion to state coffers last year and supported 41% of the state’s economy, a fraction of Texans know that there’s a state agency ensuring operators follow the law and best practices. A name change may sound unimportant, but at a time when Texans should be confident in the growth in the industry and excited about the opportunities, I am concerned that some are skeptical due to a lack of awareness and understanding about what our agency does – that’s unacceptable.
How should this change be done? We need a constitutional amendment to rename the Railroad Commission. This would ensure that our citizens are a part of the change, have a voice in the process, and are made aware of what the agency’s primary functions are. The agency was provided for in the constitution and any name change needs to be constitutional, not statutory. Representative Larry Phillips (R-District 62) has proposed a House Joint Resolution to do this, and I support his constitutional amendment. I firmly believe that in the interest of transparency and good government that a state agency’s name should provide a good indication of what it does.
The RRC has a long and storied history that all Texans should be proud of. Changing its name won’t change that history. It will simply eliminate confusion regarding the commission’s purpose, which is to oversee energy production by protecting the public, preventing waste and protecting correlative rights.
In my first couple of months on the job, I have already worked with dozens of legislators. I am continually impressed with their diligence, I respect their perspective a great deal, and I appreciate the hard work they do every day. I’m anxious to visit with them and anyone else who wants to discuss the urgent need for this change. I‘ll continue to work with anyone who is interested in how Texas can continue to advance and improve how we produce and regulate energy in our great state. After all, we have the opportunity in front of us to retake the position of global energy leader. But to achieve that we need the people of Texas to support the industry’s growth, with confidence, and understand that there is a state agency regulating how our energy is produced. The name change can be one of many ways we make that happen.