Texas lawmakers file bills, aim to hold energy regulators accountable

Texas Politics

AUSTIN (KXAN) — As state lawmakers grilled Texas energy regulators to learn more about what contributed to last week’s epic power failures, others are filing bills in the legislature to increase accountability and communication.

Rep. Lyle Larson of House District 122 filed a bill that would consolidate the state’s oil, gas and electric regulators. This would include merging the Railroad Commission and Public Utility Commission into an elected body called the Texas Energy and Communications Commission.

Right now, the Public Utility Commission, which oversees ERCOT, is made up of members who are appointed by Texas Gov. Greg Abbott. The PUC has largely escaped scrutiny from Abbott in the aftermath of the winter storms that devastated Texas.

Larson says an elected body would make members directly accountable to voters.

“If these folks mess up like ours have, they won’t get re-elected in the next election cycle,” said the San Antonio lawmaker.

Efforts to try and increase oversight have failed before. Larson filed the exact same bill 10 years ago, after another storm that also led to widespread outages.

“People have talked about how it was a historic storm,” he said. “We had that historic storm 10 years ago.”

But according to Texas House records, Larson’s 2011 bill never made it out of the Energy Resources Committee. He recalls there being opposition to then-governor Rick Perry not having the power to appoint board members.

We called lawmakers from that committee to learn if that was true. The two former representatives who answered the phone said they couldn’t remember much about the bill or if it even had a hearing. Two of those committee members still serve in the Texas House, but they did not return phone calls Friday.

Larson believes it’s just one more non-action that led to major consequences.

“It looks nice on the resume until something like this happens,” he said. “This is a colossal failure, and I believe the legislature and the executive branch were responsible for it.”

It’s not just Texas House members filing bills. State Senator Judith Zaffirini also filed one bill that would make the PUC an elected body and a second bill with requirements for winterizing power systems.

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