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Area residents voice displeasure with Texas Railroad Commission

Area residents voice displeasure with Texas Railroad Commission

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Area residents voice displeasure with Texas Railroad Commission
August 05
15:17 2016

Matthew Reyna | Staff Writer

@Bucko_Rodgers

The Texas Railroad Commission was repeatedly lambasted by speakers during a Grapevine town hall that was organized to discuss ways to reform the agency going forward before an upcoming “sunset” vote.

Sunset Town Hall was organized by Tom Smith and Rita Beving of the activist group Public Citizen and brought more than 50 people, many of whom are from local environmental groups, to the Grapevine Convention Center on Tuesday, August 3.

“This is one of those big issues that is really going to affect the future of North Texas,” Smith said. “How do we regulate the Railroad Commission? What kind of changes have to be made?”

Texas State Representatives Jim Keffer (R-Eastland) and Roberto Alonzo (D-Dallas) were featured guests and listened to public concerns. Their stated goal was to act as a bridge between the legislature and Texas citizens.

“The Railroad Commission is now up for its third go-around to pass Sunset,” Keffer said. “And it’s a tough road because it’s an extremely sensitive, hot-button issue type agency.”

Under a Sunset review, an advisory commission is tasked to seek public input and find ways to improve public agencies by cutting waste and considering new innovative changes to government organizations. The committee also has the option of abolishing an organization if it’s deemed no longer useful. The final results of the Sunset Advisory Commission’s review will be voted on during the legislative session next year.

A popular idea that had majority consensus amongst the group was changing the name of the Texas Railroad Commission – a name most speakers said was misleading.

“It’s totally deceptive because the commission doesn’t do anything with railroads, and it hasn’t for a very long time,” said Mark Miller, the Libertarian candidate for Railroad Commissioner who spoke during the public hearing. “The biggest problem with the name change is that fewer than five percent of Texas voters know that it does oil and gas and not railroads. It’s pulling the wool over people’s eyes.”

Multiple Dentonites attended the town hall to protest how the commission and the Texas Legislature reacted to the Denton fracking ban, which was approved by voters in 2014.

Denton resident Ed Soph said the will of city voters has long been ignored by Texas bureaucratic institutions.

“We had to [pass the ban] because of the industry-friendly policies of the Texas Railroad Commission and their lack of concern for our health and safety,” Soph said. “Unfortunately, the result of that was not a discussion as to do what we can do better. No, the legislature instead passed House Bill 40, which took everybody’s right in a home rule city to do what we did.”

Irving resident Kim Soldo displayed a poster that showed all of the earthquakes in the DFW area during the last six years. Multiple speakers linked recent earthquakes in the area to wastewater injection. 

Multiple candidates running for state office in November’s election spoke during the public hearing, including Miller and Gary Stuard, who is the Green candidate for Texas House District 32.

Stuard vehemently denounced the Commission and their practices, saying the oil and gas industry will be held accountable if he defeats his Republican opponent Pete Sessions in November.

“It is a criminal organization and a thug arm of polluting industries that do not care and have never cared about citizens,” Stuard said. “I would love to see criminal charges brought against those on the board and those who have been feeding them money for the damage they have done.”

Milled accused the commission of incompetence as well and is not optimistic meaningful reform will be coming soon.

“The earthquake activities, they have really been totally behind the eight ball on. They have been slow to recognize what the issue is and how to deal with it,” Miller said. “They have been very slow to recognize the science.”

The Texas Legislature’s Sunset Committee will hear official public testimony about reform to the Railroad Commission on August 22 at the Texas State Capitol.

“We want to fill up the room on August 22 and make changes,” Smith said. “This is a big damn deal. We want the commission to change the way they do business.”

Featured Image: Grapevine Town Hall. Contribution

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