Like other state agencies in Texas, the Railroad Commission is subject to Sunset Review
every 12 years, or it risks abolishment by the Legislature. The Sunset Advisory Commission’s review process, which is conducted by independent reviewers, provides an opportunity for Texas to examine the commission’s mission, priorities, and performance. The Sunset Advisory Commission has conducted several reviews of the Railroad Commission
over the past decade, often leading to failing reviews for the agency
, which has still been reauthorized by the legislature.
The Railroad Commission was up for its 12-year Sunset Review in 2011-2012 for the 82nd Legislative Session. At that time, the hydraulic fracturing boom was taking over Texas. The Sunset Commission noted that “advancements in the oil and gas industry put the Commission face-to-face with a new set of regulatory challenges and new public demands.” Despite the Sunset Commission making several recommendations to improve the RRC’s structure, lawmakers failed to pass a bill that would require the RRC to fulfill the Sunset recommendations, and instead allowed the Sunset Commission to re-examine the agency and make recommendations in the 83rd Legislative Session. One Sunset recommendation did pass in another bill and required the RRC to reduce reliance on General Revenue Funds used to support the Oil and Gas program.
In the 83rd Legislative Session (2012-2013), with Texas’ oil and gas boom in full force, the legislature again failed to pass a bill that would enact the Sunset Advisory Commission’s recommendations in spite of the Sunset Commission’s observation that “having a more transparent and objective regulator was more important than ever.” Instead, lawmakers passed a bill allowing the RRC to continue for another four years, undergoing another Sunset Review in 2017, with the RRC paying all costs of the review. A few other bills passed incorporating some of the Sunset recommendations on issues including ethics, funding the Oil and Gas Regulation and Cleanup Fund, and public participation. The Governor vetoed one bill that passed the legislature that would have required the automatic resignation of a commissioner running for another elected office.
In the 2017 85th Legislative Session, lawmakers passed a bill to continue the Railroad Commission for another 12 years, and implemented several Sunset Advisory Commission recommendations, along with some modifications to those recommendations. The next Sunset Review of the RRC will be in 2027.
The Sunset Review process is an important part of the checks and balances that ensure the legislature holds state agencies accountable for certain standards of performance. The legislature, however, has been unwilling to address major structural weaknesses in the Railroad Commission despite the same issues arising repeatedly.