If adopted, either of these bills would help ensure that consumers continue having a strong voice at the agency that oversees home gas rates. Both bills will be considered in a key legislative committee on Monday.
Here’s the background:
The Texas Railroad Commission adopted a set of rules in December that would undermine the ability of cities to defend their citizens in rate cases. The rules were opposed by cities, consumer groups and many lawmakers. Opponents rightly noted that the new rules would gradually lead to higher gas rates and tilt the regulatory playing field in favor of monopoly utilities and and against Texas ratepayers.
Proponents of those Railroad Commission rules argued they could save money by reducing legal costs. But this argument fails to hold water. While it’s true that defending ratepayers costs money, those costs pale in comparison to the net savings that accrue from savings on home bills. Between 2000 and 2013, for instance, cities helped save their citizens in excess of $500 million in avoided rates.
And it’s utilities — not cities — that drive rate cases at the Railroad Commission. Remember: gas utilities are monopolies. They face no free market competition that otherwise would pressure them to keep their rates affordable. It was also the monopoly utilities — and not cities or consumer groups — that were lobbying for the new rules at the Railroad Commission.
Any effort to dilute city authority at the Railroad Commission — and that’s the effect of the new rules adopted in December — will contribute to higher rates. But House Bills 2988 and 3749 will help restore regulatory balance.
Both bills are by state Rep. Jim Keffer and both will be taken up Monday, April 13, in the House Energy Resources Committee. The committee agenda can be found here. You can also watch the hearing on the internet, at this link.
Stay tuned here for more legislative details as they become available. Want to contact your local lawmaker? Check out the link here.