The Sunset Advisory Commission will recommend to the Legislature that the name of the Texas Railroad Commission be changed to the Texas Oil and Gas Commission and that it be headed by a single commissioner elected statewide to a four-year term.
If adopted, the alteration would be a major one. The Railroad Commission now is led by three commissioners elected statewide who serve six-year terms.
In suggesting changes, the Sunset Commission went forward with a staff recommendation that the agency's name be changed to reflect its duties as the regulator of the state's oil and gas industry. The Sunset Commission's plan calls for the Railroad Commission be phased out on Sept. 1 and be replaced by the new agency.
With its vote, the Sunset Commission set aside a staff proposal that the agency be headed by five part-time members appointed by the governor.
Lamont Jefferson, a public member of the Sunset Commission, voiced reservations about having a single commissioner, saying "a whole lot of power" would rest with one person. "There's a concern that the person is going to get it right."
Sunset Commission Chairman Glenn Hegar Jr. responded that a single commissioner can be effective and that the agency doesn't need three commissioners "stumbling over each other."
Early reaction from the industry was favorable toward the idea of a single commissioner for the agency.
Houston-based oil and gas exploration company Apache Corp. had supported the idea of five part-time commissioners, but "if they go to one elected commissioner, that's fine, too," said Obie O'Brien, Apache's vice president of government and regulatory affairs.
A single elected commissioner would be more focused on doing the job, O'Brien said.
Some critics have said railroad commissioners too often use the position as a springboard to higher office and spend time raising campaign contributions from the industry they regulate.
The Sunset Commission also approved a proposal that the Texas Oil and Gas Commission be a self-funding agency by raising fees and surcharges.
The Sunset Commission's proposals will be presented to the Legislature during the first week of February.