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Brown Calls for More Transparency in Pipeline Decisions

Steve Brown, a Democrat vying for a seat on the Texas Railroad Commission, says the agency should add protections for landowners as it considers a proposal that would change how “common carrier” pipelines are designated.

Steve Brown (l.) and Ryan Sitton, Democratic and Republican nominees for Railroad Commissioner.

Steve Brown, a Democrat vying for a seat on the Railroad Commission of Texas, says the agency should add protections for landowners as it considers a proposal that changes the way it designates “common carrier” pipelines.

The common carrier status, which indicates a pipeline’s availability to multiple companies, enables pipeline operators to seize private land through eminent domain. Currently, companies seeking common carrier status need only to mark a line on a permit application — an honor system that has spurred legal battles over eminent domain claims.

“The process for granting common carrier status should always be rigorous, open and transparent,” Brown said in a statement released Wednesday. “That includes notifying affected landowners and municipalities via mail of a pending application.”

Brown said the Railroad Commission should post notices of common carrier applications in local publications and should link to applications on the front page of its website, while allowing time for public comment.

Ryan Sitton, Brown’s Republican opponent, did not respond to requests for comment for this story.

Brown’s calls come as the commission — which regulates the state’s 426,000-mile network of natural gas, hazardous liquid and other pipelines — mulls new rules aimed at clarifying common carrier status. The proposal would require companies to submit documentation supporting a common carrier claim and to give the commission 45 days to review an application. The agency is accepting comments on the proposal until late this month.

As written, the proposal does not add any mechanism to contest a commission decision, nor does it address notification procedures. 

Pipeline operators have said stricter regulations would bog down efforts to transport the resources that lubricate Texas’ economy. Landowners say they want fair offers for their land and lose bargaining power when companies haphazardly invoke eminent domain claims.

Advocates for landowners say they want to ensure the commission’s latest proposal will not hinder a landowner’s legal challenge of a pipeline’s common carrier status. Legal experts say it’s not clear whether the proposal as written would affect litigation.

Brown, the former chairman of the Fort Bend County Democratic Party, has cast himself as a reformer who wants the commission to bolster protections for consumers. Sitton, whose engineering firm works with oil and gas companies, has touted his industry experience and says the commission should push back against federal regulations and keep facilitating the state’s prodigious oil and gas production.

Sitton raised more than $289,000 during the most recent reporting period, which covers Feb. 23 through June 30. 

Brown raised just $28,000 during the same period, according to state filings.

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