RIGGED: A New Report on Oil and Gas Influence at the Railroad Commission
- Sierra Club, Lone Star Chapter, November 2016
Texas’ three sitting oil and gas regulators raised more than $11 million in recent years, taking at least 60 percent of it from the industry that they’re supposed to regulate, a new study by the Sierra Club, Public Citizen, and Texans for Public Justice finds. They took another 7 percent of their money from lawyers and lobbyists, including those with business before the commissioners.
“This report helps explain why we have such a captive agency,” said Reggie James, Director of the Sierra Club’s Lone Star Chapter. “From turning a blind eye to grave enforcement violations, to keeping basic data hidden, to routinely favoring large natural gas utilities in rate cases, we see a Railroad Commission that is more interested in promoting oil and gas interests than protecting the public.”
Wayne Christian—newly elected to the misnamed Texas Railroad Commission—took even more of his funding from the industry he seeks to regulate (65 percent), according the report, Rigged: How the Texas Oil and Gas Industry Bankrolls Its Own Regulators. By comparison, oil and gas interests supplied 22 percent of the $45 million that Gov. Greg Abbott raised in the 2014 gubernatorial election cycle.
“The Railroad Commission’s pay-politicians-to-pump-petroleum policy hurts Texas through pollution and higher bills,” said Public Citizen Texas Director Tom “Smitty” Smith. “If it didn’t work, the smartest businessmen in Texas wouldn’t keep investing in these politicians.”
“Having a regulatory agency that is bought and paid for by the industry that it’s supposed to regulate is as costly as it is pointless,” said Texans for Public Justice Director Craig McDonald. “Reform it or dump it.”
If Texas politicians had the will, a few simple fixes would go a long way to reforming the troubled Railroad Commission. The legislature should bar commissioners and commission candidates from taking money from interests with business before the commission. It should prohibit commissioners or candidates from taking contributions outside of an 18-month period in which they appear on the ballot. Furthermore, it should require sitting commissioners to resign to run for another office.