THE TEXAS RAILROAD COMMISSION: AN OVERVIEW OF A TEXAS AGENCY IN THE OIL AND GAS INDUSTRY
The Texas Railroad Commission was created many years ago and was originally tasked with the regulation of the state’s rail industry. Many people have heard of the agency in some form or fashion but its name is no longer an accurate depiction of the agency’s oversight and is actually misleading. Despite a number of unsuccessful attempts to change the agency’s name, it continues to carry on as the Texas Railroad Commission. In fact, today, the Texas Railroad Commission doesn’t handle or have anything to do with railroads. The Commission acts as the state’s chief regulator of the oil and gas industry. These duties include handling permitting, inspecting, and monitoring oil and gas operations. This is very important to note especially given the robust growth our state has seen with regards to this industry.
The Railroad Commission of Texas was created in 1891 and was tasked with regulating the state’s rail industry in the 1800’s. With the Railroad Commission having been created in 1891, it makes it the state’s oldest existing regulatory agency. Over the years, since the Railroad Commission’s creation, the agency has been tasked with the responsibility of overseeing the activities of a number of additional industries.
Today, the industries that the Railroad Commission oversees include alternative energy, gas services, oil and gas, pipeline safety and coal/uranium mining. Now, you may have noticed that the one industry I did not mention was the railroad industry. Beginning in the 1970’s, the Railroad Commission’s role in regulating the rail industry began to change by shifting from economic-based regulation to safety-based. As a result of the Federal Railroad Safety Act of 1970, the responsibility for rail safety was placed with the Federal Railroad Administration. This Act laid the ground work for the Railroad Commission and the federal government to establish a rail safety program in 1983. The following year, the Railroad Commission ceased its historic role in the economic regulation of the rail industry which it had possessed for nearly a century. Beginning October 1, 2005, the 79th Texas Legislature in House Bill 2702, shifted the remainder of the oversight of Railroad Safety from the Railroad Commission to the Texas Department of Transportation. This transfer of duties left the Railroad Commission with no regulatory authority over the railroad industry.
The Railroad Commission today is composed of three elected Commissioners who serve six-year staggered terms. The six year staggered terms provide for one Commissioner to be elected every two years. If a Commissioner is unable to or decides not to complete their term, the Governor has the ability to appoint a Commissioner until the next General Election.
If you are interested in learning more go to the Railroad Commission of Texas. In the weeks to come, I will be reviewing some other Texas agencies. Some of the agencies that we will review in the upcoming weeks include the State Office of Administrative Hearings, the Texas Education Agency, University Interscholastic League, as well as a number of other agencies. Also, if you would like to learn more on your own about the agencies going through the sunset process or find out what state agencies are undergoing the sunset review process, you can go to the Texas Sunset Advisory Commission
If you have any questions regarding the Railroad Commission of Texas or the sunset review process, please don’t hesitate to contact either my Capitol or District office. My offices are available at any time to assist with questions, concerns or comments (Capitol Office, 512-463-0672; District Office, 361-949-4603).
– State Representative Todd Hunter, District 32
Rep. Hunter represents Nueces (Part) County. He can be contacted at [email protected] or at 512-463-0672.