About one year ago, three small cities in East Texas, located south of Jacksonville, formed the East Texas SubRegional Planning Commission (ETSRPC). The ETSRPC is a 391 Commission, formed out of concern for numerous issues surrounding TransCanada’s Keystone XL pipeline. The initial cities consisted of Gallatin and Reklaw. Later, the city of Alto also joined. All three cities are within Region 6 in the state of Texas with populations of less than 1200 citizens.
The 391 Commission is part of the Texas Government Code, established in 1987, that allows at least 2 or more cities, counties, or combination thereof, to form a sub-regional entity within a region to work together to make plans or discover answers for their communities on matters of concern.
The formation of a 391 elevates a city and/or counties position with state and federal agencies, as it gives the 391 the power of a regional government recognized by the state, requiring agencies to “coordinate” their activities around issues and answer questions regarding issues of concern.
Basically, when a 391 is formed, the groups involved have a bigger voice in what happens in regards to a project within their geographical jurisdiction. In the case of the Keystone XL pipeline, the 391 can ask questions and expect answers from agencies such as the Railroad Commission, TCEQ, Army Corps of Engineers, etc. over various issues that apply to a project or issue of concern. During the Trans-Texas Corridor controversy, several 391 Commissions were formed in opposition to the proposed road project, with the end result being the road not coming to fruition.
Gallatin, Reklaw and Alto formed the 391 Commission for the following reasons regarding the Keystone XL pipeline:
1) Water: The cities are concerned about their municipal wells being contaminated should a spill occur and what alternatives they would have to have potable water. Tar sands crude is laden with far more chemicals and pollutants than conventional crude, and these cities are also concerned about the Carrizo-Wilcox Aquifer that underlies their water supplies.
2) Emergency Response: A tar sand spill is a hazardous material spill. Since it is not conventional crude, there is concern regarding how these towns’ voluntary fire departments would deal with such a spill. On the Kalamazoo River in Michigan, where a tar sands spill occurred involving the Keystone Pipeline, residents were evacuated at least six miles from the spill site due to benzene and hydrogen sulfide levels that were at dangerously high exposure levels.
3) Liability and Safety: The tar sand spills in Kalamazoo, Michigan have cost more than $800 million. It was the largest and most expensive onshore spill in U.S. history according to the National Transportation Safety Board. The spill has taken more than two years to clean up. Since TransCanada doesn’t have to pay into the U.S. spill fund due to an IRS exemption, a real question that deserves a real answer is what would be the liability for these local municipalities, the county, or state should a spill occur? On TransCanada’s new Keystone 1 line, the company has already had more than twelve spills in less than one year.
The East Texas Subregional Planning Commission formed to preserve the “health, safety and welfare of their residents and plan for future development of their communities for almost any activity.” In July, the 391 Commission joined a suit against the Army Corps of Engineers regarding the water crossing permits needed by TransCanada. Currently, the suit is on appeal at the 10th circuit court in Denver.