Texas Railroad Commission again threatened with name change, to Texas Energy Commission

Call them choo-choos, cabooses, or trains: The Texas Railroad Commission has practically nothing to do with them.

For years, lawmakers have tried, rather faintly, to change the name of the state agency that regulates oil and gas operations.

In the oldie-but-goodie department, state Rep. Larry Phillips, R-Sherman, will propose a measure today at the House Energy Resources Committee that would change the name of the agency to the Texas Energy Commission.

But if recent history is any indication, such a measure has little chance of passage: Name-changing legislation proposed in 2005, 2009, 2011 and 2013 all failed to pass. This despite the support of railroad commissioners: David Porter once told me that he was pretty tired of calls to his office complaining about the train rumbling through town. (While it regulated railroad rates and tariffs in the 19th Century, the agency has long had nothing to do with trains.)jwj 0417 Lege 0994

The inside skinny is that an enforcement agency with “energy” in the name is likely to get far more scrutiny than one with the quaint  “railroad” moniker. Oil and gas interests have historically registered themselves as neutral or opposed to a name change, often citing costs to the agency itself.

“While the current name is clearly a misnomer, it is a well-known misnomer recognized in energy circles around the world,” wrote Mark Sutton, executive director of the Oklahoma-based Gas Processors Association, in a Nov. 30, 2012 letter to state Rep. Dennis Bonnen, R-Angleton, who was then chair of the Sunset Advisory Commission.

That letter pretty much sums up the argument oil and gas companies have used, even as others have said the name “Railroad Commission” leads to confusion.

Author: Asher Price

Asher Price has covered energy and the environment for the American-Statesman since 2006. Twice the Society of Environmental Journalists has named him a finalist for its beat reporter of the year award. He spent part of the spring of 2011 as an environmental science journalism fellow at the Marine Biological Laboratory in Woods Hole, Mass., and during the 2011-12 academic year was stationed at Columbia’s business and journalism schools as a Knight-Bagehot fellow. He is the co-author of the book The Great Texas Wind Rush: How George Bush, Ann Richards and a Bunch of Tinkerers Helped the Oil and Gas State Win the Race to Wind Power. (UT Press.) His new book, Year of the Dunk, comes out in May 2015. He lives in the South Congress neighborhood with his wife and dog.

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