Railroad Commission transparency bill to be heard Tuesday
Austin – The Texas Senate Natural Resources and Economic Development Committee will hear Sen. José Rodríguez’s SB 568, which requires the Railroad Commission of Texas to develop a searchable internet database where the public can search for violations, inspection reports, enforcement actions, and complaints.
The hearing is scheduled for Tuesday (April 11, 2017), and can be viewed live via http://www.senate.texas.gov/av-live.php
SB 568 would require the Railroad Commission of Texas (RRC) develop a searchable internet database where the public can search for violations, inspection reports, enforcement actions, and complaints. In 2016, Sunset Commission staff reported extensively on the RRC’s challenges with data collection, concluding that nearly 40,000 actionable spills were not referred for enforcement.
Late last year, Sen. Rodríguez requested information from the RRC on its response to large oil and gas spills into various Texas waterways during flooding events dating back to 2014.
“The RRC was not able to succinctly describe the spills or its enforcement actions,” Sen. Rodríguez said. “Texans should have confidence that the state’s oil and gas regulatory agency can at minimum monitor operator compliance and track spills, and citizens should have access to information about the RCC’s response to spills.”
What the Senator received was a CD containing a jumble of documents, and they only dated back to 2015. Reviewing these documents, advocates concluded that the RRC is unable to describe specifically what chemicals, at what volume, migrated into Texas rivers.
As reported by the El Paso Times, responding to questions from Sen. Hinojosa during a February Senate Finance Committee meeting, RRC Commissioner Christi Craddick said the RRC would like to make online reporting more vibrant, but said the RRC needs funding to accomplish this purpose.
Fortunately, the legislature is poised to give RRC more money. Rider 11 already requires the RRC publish information about enforcement data on its website.
“The Senate budget gives the RRC more than $3 million for upgrading its information technology for this purpose,” Sen. Rodríguez said. “Surely with these upgrades forthcoming, the RRC can also provide inspection and enforcement information online to the public.”
José Rodríguez represents Texas Senate District 29, which includes the counties of El Paso, Hudspeth, Culberson, Jeff Davis, and Presidio. He represents both urban and rural constituencies, and more than 350 miles of the Texas-Mexico border. Senator Rodríguez currently serves as the Chairman of the Texas Senate Democratic Caucus, and is a member of the Senate Committees on Natural Resources and Economic Development; Transportation; Veteran Affairs and Border Security; and Agriculture, Water, and Rural Affairs (Vice Chair).