Christi Craddick earns tens of thousands of dollars from oil company stocks, has taken industry-paid flights and threw a campaign event hosted by one of Texas’ biggest petroleum producers.She’s also the state’s top oil and gas regulator, heading an agency that could pose a huge roadblock to one of President Joe Biden’s key climate policies.
As chair of the elected Texas Railroad Commission, Craddick oversees fossil fuel companies that provide a large chunk of the United States’ greenhouse gas pollution, including the potent gas methane. The agency’s three Republican commissioners oppose a Biden administration push to tighten oversight of methane releases, a rule that Craddick has called an “attack on the industry that provides so much to our state.”
The commissioners — Craddick, Wayne Christian and James Wright — are financially enmeshed with the same industry, with connections that include campaign contributions, business income and ownership of company stock, according to state disclosure records reviewed by POLITICO.
The Biden administration’s ability to work with — or around — this agency will have a large bearing on the president’s hopes of slashing U.S. methane emissions in half by 2030. Scientists blame methane for one-third of the Earth’s temperature rise since the start of the industrial revolution, and Texas’ oil companies lead the industry in releasing the gas by venting or burning it.The commission plays a pivotal role by approving the companies’ methane releases — something its critics say it does all too readily.
“All the Biden’s administration’s plans on methane run through the Railroad Commission,” said Chrysta Castañeda, a Dallas-based energy lawyer who ran an unsuccessful campaign as a Democrat to join the commission in 2020.
One member of a White House climate task force echoed that sentiment, saying the commission has been on the radar of aides drawing up Biden’s climate policies. The Railroad Commission “is pretty important to Biden’s plans on methane,” said Virginia Palacios, who also heads Commission Shift, a nonprofit that advocates for changes to the Texas agency and compiled an earlier review of Craddick’s finances.
“Texas produces more greenhouse gas emissions than any other state and we produce more oil and gas than any other state,” Palacios said in an interview. “Being able to reduce methane emissions in the Texas oil and gas sector is a critical part of the climate movement. It has to happen.”
Through spokespeople, the commissioners said they are providing the industry with proper oversight while complying with Texas’ ethics rules. The agency also points to figures showing that Texas has seen a sharp decline in the industry’s methane releases since they peaked in 2019, a year before the pandemic sent oil production crashing.