While the crony capitalism formerly wetexans.com prevalent in Texas made national news headlines during the 2012 presidential campaign, the practice has not been curtailed. One need only look to the ongoing saga between private property owners and pipelines in Texas to see that the politically influential continue to script law that grants them special privilege.
The ability of legislators to convince the public of their commitment to the rule of law, private property rights and free markets all the while authoring and voting for laws that protect inept state agencies and grant special privilege to various favored business interests is worthy of an Academy Award.
For over 95 years, since our legislature defined common carrier pipelines, they have been under the jurisdiction of the Texas Railroad Commission.
It wasn’t until August 2011, however, that the Texas Supreme Court in its Denbury Green (archived link) decision documented what landowners had been protesting for years: the designation of common carrier status by the Texas Railroad Commission was a farce. There is, in fact, no designation. The Railroad Commission claims they have no authority to determine whether a company is or is not a common carrier pipeline. – formerly http://www.rrc.state.tx.us/about/faqs/eminentdomain.php
Here’s the rub: the Railroad Commission was well aware that pipelines were telling landowners the Commission had designated them as common carriers thus conveying on these pipelines the power of eminent domain. That power gave pipelines the ability to “legally” grab easements across private property often at prices well below the market value and over the strident objection of the landowner and yet, the Railroad Commission did nothing to halt the practice.
So now rather than recognize the conflicted relationship that exists between the industry and the state agency, bills by Senators Davis (SB 1625) and Duncan (SB 1637) and Rep. Lewis (HB 2748) all seek to leave that designation in the hands of the Railroad Commission. The senate bills may be well intentioned in that they more specifically define a common carrier pipeline and even prescribe the type of information to be considered prior to making a common carrier designation. They fail however to address the conflicted relationship between the agency and those it is supposed to regulate. Landowners have little hope that their interests will be considered, much less protected.
There is a fourth bill working its way through the session, HB 3547 authored by the Rep. Rene Oliveira. Rep. Oliveira is the former chairman of the House Land and Resource Management Committee and took testimony on this issue formerly during the interim. HB 3547 seems to acknowledge the inability of the Commission to conduct fair and impartial evaluations and thus moves the decision to the State Office of Administrative Hearings and to insure that the effected landowner’s interests are considered, the bill requires a public hearing in at least one county in the pipeline’s path.
When the parties are so clearly unmatched, as is often the case here with very large and very wealthy pipeline companies pitted against individual landowners, the burden on the state to insure just conduct, fair play, is paramount. Read these bills and call the authors. Let’s make sure we enact good law not just more law.
Senator Wendy Davis (archived link) (512) 463-0110
Senator Robert Duncan (archived link) (512) 463-0128
Rep. Tryon Lewis (512) 463-0546
Rep. Rene Oliveira (512) 463-0640
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