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

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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.

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