Naked City

Here's an Idea: Let's Pull Texas Government Out of the 19th Century

The state's oldest and least-understood regulatory agency could undergo a name change in the next year, if two lawmakers have their way with the 114-year-old Texas Railroad Commission. In fact, Rep. Corbin Van Arsdale, R-Houston, said he was motivated to file his bill (HJR 42) because of his own confusion over what the Railroad Commission actually does. If the constitutional measure passes, the venerable agency will become the Texas Energy Commission, a more apt name for an outfit that largely oversees the influential oil and gas industries. State Rep. Buddy West, R-Odessa, filed a similar bill (HB 1078) and the name-change proposal is pending in the House Energy Resources Committee, which West chairs.

For Van Arsdale, passage of the bill would represent another form of legislative progress in his book – change. Speaking at an LBJ Future Forum event last week, Van Arsdale, told a youthful audience that younger legislators on both sides of the aisle are eager to make things happen, but too often strike out at bureaucratic roadblocks they can't control. Sometimes senior, more powerful legislators throw up the roadblocks, said the sophomore legislator, who drew laughter when he described how new ideas are sometimes brushed aside with a simple explanation: "Bullock wouldn't like it." This would be the legendary late Lt. Gov. Bob Bullock, who wielded as much control over the entire legislative body as he did over the Senate.

We don't know what Bullock would have thought of the new name for the Texas Railroad Commission, but commission Chairman Victor Carrillo had favored the identity switch prior to the legislative session's start date. While the agency came of age when railroad was king, the commission's role has expanded substantially to include all aspects of oil and gas, including utilities, well permitting, pipeline and rail safety, and the new yet controversial darling of the Texas economy – liquefied natural gas. Maybe Carrillo will get more than he bargained for, should the commission take on an easier-to-understand title. The Texas Energy Commission is bound to invite more public scrutiny of the three elected commissioners who regulate those who help finance their political campaigns.

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Texas Railroad Commission, Corbin Van Arsdale, Lt. Gov. Bob Bullock, Victor Carrillo, Buddy West, Texas Energy Commission

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