The historic Texas Railroad Commission could be fundamentally restructured under legislation considered Monday by a state Senate panel.
The commission, which hasn't had authority over railroads since 2005, would be renamed the Texas Oil and Gas Commission under the measure, but most debate Monday focused on another aspect of the bill consolidating all the agency's authority to one elected official.
Currently, a three-member commission governs it, but supporters of the restructuring say that system has politicized the agency, making it inefficient.
"The problem is you have three very big fish in one pond," said bill author Sen. Glenn Hegar, R-Katy. "The oil and gas industry is a very vital part of this economy, yet the three commissioners point in very different directions."
Opponents say the oil and gas industry has kept the Texas economy booming and doesn't need unnecessary volatility that may upset a delicate balance.
"Let's not introduce more risk into this industry," said Douglass Robison, a member of the Texas Oil and Gas Association. "If you go to one single official, we do not have the open deliberations and appellate structure that we currently do."
David Porter, one of the current railroad commissioners, argued that the single-commissioner change would negate checks and balances that are crucial to an industry that has such a vital role in the state's economy.
"The current changes would negatively impact the economy and effectively concentrate all regulatory power in one person's hands," Porter said. "As we face a looming budget crisis and increased federal intervention, now is not the time to toy with an industry that has been keeping us afloat."
The Sunset Advisory Commission, a 12-member oversight committee that includes 10 state lawmakers, voted in January to approve the agency name change and shift to a single commissioner.
The panel also recommended that the commissioner's political fundraising be limited and strengthens the commission's enforcement.