The stuffed suits were stuffed in the room at the Sunset Advisory Commission hearing on Wednesday, December 19th. It was a terrible time to hold a hearing and it was a terribly important hearing. But was anyone really heard?
Yes, we know it’s the yuletide season, but we couldn’t celebrate the holiday without at least attempting to inform you of the broad array of community activists, landowners, pipeline safety advocates and political reformers that attended a hearing on Wednesday, December 19th, held by the Sunset Advisory Commission. The Sunset Commission was empowered by the legislature in 1977 to, ” identify and eliminate waste, duplication, and inefficiency in government agencies.”
Folks from across the state who are concerned with protecting our resources — land and water, in particular — testified about the need for thoroughgoing reform of the Railroad Commission.
These reforms go far beyond the proposal to simply change the name of the Commission to better reflect what it does – since the RRC’s primary function is to regulate the oil and gas industry, including pipelines. Still, the legislature has continued to fail to even change the name.
There are far deeper problems with the RRC that have been festering for years as it has really served as a lapdog for the oil and gas industry. We can begin with the fact that they are allowed to take unlimited contributions from the very industries they are regulating. (Perhaps this is why the leading “change” to the Commission continues to be the name change.) One is forced to understand why RRC member David Porter, in justification for his opposition to shutting off these contributions, that all statewide officials are allowed to do the same so why not the RRC!
We have attempted to cover at least some of the ongoing fight about the Keystone XL (TransCanada) pipeline. (And, in fairness, they’re not the only pipeline we need to worry about.) Our unlikely coalition is coming together to raise the more perplexing questions about eminent domain abuse and the intractable problems, particularly with our water supply, that could stem from a pipeline breach. Then there’s the fracking issue and the many questions that remain and new ones arising.
Perhaps our problems really aren’t all the problems listed above. Though these are not easy problems to resolve because the answers are often murky and are multi-faceted. The real problem is becoming increasingly clear to we ordinary Texans. Our officials are incapable of working together, in an honest way, through the murky details of this moment in the history of our state, country and world. There IS a real tension now between the increased scarcity of resources and the increased demands of so many people moving to Texas. What are we going to do about that, besides allow our officials to ignore the problems or carry water (pun intended) for industry — the people be damned?
Folks, they’re not going to get it until we do. We must dump the partisanship that is rendering us powerless to work together as Texans and as Americans to strike the balance and to find new and creative solutions we so desperately need.
This next legislative session is another opportunity for us to learn more as citizen activists and to build bridges to citizens across the state – rural and urban, conservatives and liberals, Democrats, Republicans, Libertarians, Greens and the many more of us who just think of ourselves as plain ol’ small “i” independents.
You can watch the hearing on Wednesday here at this site. Just click on the date “Dec 19”. You’ll have to scroll through until you get to the testimony on the Railroad Commission at: http://www.senate.state.tx.us/avarchive/?yr=2012
CALL TO ACTION — here’s what you can do:
What are we asking for? At least two things:
1. To pass meaningful legislation to prohibit contributions to statewide elected officials, including the Railroad Commission, from companies (including their employees) that have business or disputes before those bodies.
2. To meaningfully close the “T4 loophole” that allows the Railroad Commission to effectively give pipeline companies the right to claim common carrier status without any oversight whatsoever. This gives pipeline companies the automatic power to use eminent domain to seize private property for private gain.
These are very modest requests in light of this report in the NY Times about our Governor and the reputation Texas has garnered for our seemingly unlimited commitment to corporate welfare: Texas Gives Industries a Bonanza
If you read this article with enough time today, December 21st, to send a comment to the Sunset Advisory Commission — click here to send an email.
If you read this after December 21st, or in addition to meeting the above request, please contact your Texas House and Texas Senate legislators (go here for a full list). Ask them to fight for FULL and REAL eminent domain and campaign finance reforms in this session.
Have a very Merry Christmas and Happy New Year y’all! Get some rest, we’re all surely gonna need it!