You Know Who Hates Texans? Why, the Railroad Commission of Texas, Naturally.

The Texas Observer has published a story about the Railroad Commission of Texas that I want to call appalling, but I think the Railroad Commission has lost the ability to appall. The story exposes a pattern of dereliction and sleaze on the part of this obscure but powerful body, costing North Texas consumers at least $150 million in money we should never have had to pay for natural gas.

It's awful. But, you know, what else is new? This is the same body WFAA-Channel 8 investigative ace Brett Shipp has exposed for knowing about dangerous gas couplings for years and covering it up and allowing people to get blown up and incinerated in their homes anyway.

After you incinerate a couple families, what's 150 million bucks? In fact, I wouldn't be surprised if the three elected members of the commission have had that very conversation.

The Texas Observer looked at 10 major rate cases in which independent experts had recommended lower rates for the monopolies that supply gas to customers in North Texas than the rates passed by the commissioners. The three commissioners -- Victor G. Carrillo, Elizabeth Ames Jones and Michael L. Williams -- consistently over-ruled their own experts and gave gas companies a break anyway, even when residential rate-payers were being asked to pay for "lavish hotel stays, airfare for executives and their spouses to attend the George W. Bush inauguration, cases of wine, $700 limousine rides and Dallas Cowboys tickets," according to the article.

Just a week ago today, EPA regional director Al Armendariz, an SMU prof, took steps to protect homeowners in Parker County from imminent danger of house explosions related to frac-drilling operations for natural gas. In doing so, Armendariz effectively shut out the Railroad Commission, which is supposed to regulate gas drilling safety at the state level.

His reason for pushing the Railroad Commission aside was a history of inaction and Armendariz's fear that people might get blown up in their homes while the Railroad Commission continued to dither. Of course his action pissed off the commission, a little-known statewide elective body that used to regulate railroads but now is in the business of regulating the oil and gas biz.

The Houston Chronicle quoted commissioner Michael Williams as calling Armendariz's action "Washington politics of the worst kind."

Oh my God. Why does anybody still even call that man for a quote? At least if people do quote him, they should identify him as, "Michael L. Williams, Texas Railroad Commission member and incinerator of families."

I know you've probably already seen a lot of it, but you should go back and watch the summary of the Shipp Channel 8 News pieces.

What the stories show is the Railroad Commission sitting by and letting people get blown up and burned to death in their own homes for 30 years, knowing about the danger but doing nothing to stop it, while the commissioners raked in fat campaign contributions from the oil and gas industry.

Let me put this as bluntly as I know how: The EPA shut down the Railroad Commission in the Parker County cases because the Railroad Commission is a sleazy rogue body without an ounce of moral or political credibility that cannot be trusted to protect the public.

Thank goodness for Al Armendariz. Thank our lucky stars for Brett Shipp and Channel 8 News. Thanks, Texas Observer, for some great reporting. But you know what? The Railroad Commission can go to hell. An observant man might even call that a lock cinch.

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Jim Schutze has been the city columnist for the Dallas Observer since 1998. He has been a recipient of the Association of Alternative Newsweeklies’ national award for best commentary and Lincoln University’s national Unity Award for writing on civil rights and racial issues. In 2011 he was admitted to the Texas Institute of Letters.
Contact: Jim Schutze