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Libertarian Miller Proposes "Common Carrier" Changes

Mark Miller, a Libertarian running for Texas railroad commissioner, said lawmakers should tighten the state’s oversight of “common carrier” pipelines to bolster protections for landowners in disputes over eminent domain claims.

Mark Miller, Libertarian candidate for Texas railroad commissioner.

Mark Miller, a Libertarian running for Texas railroad commissioner, said Monday that Texas lawmakers should tighten the state’s oversight of “common carrier” pipelines to bolster protections for landowners in disputes over eminent domain claims.

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.

Miller, a petroleum engineer who now develops software for the industry, said the Legislature should implement the following measures:

  • Require the Railroad Commission to report on the fraction of Texas’ common carrier pipeline capacity that is being used for public transport.
  • Raise the requirements for common carrier status to include the amount of public transport required for qualification.  Address the negotiation power imbalance between pipeline operators and landowners.
  • Provide for cease-and-desist orders for operators improperly claiming common carrier status.
  • Consider transferring responsibility for common carrier pipelines to either the Department of Transportation or the Public Utility Commission.

Miller’s calls come as the Railroad Commission mulls new rules aimed at clarifying common carrier status, and less than a week after Steve Brown, Miller’s Democratic opponent, released his own proposal on the issue.

The commission’s 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.

In his proposal, 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. He also said the changes should not preclude landowners from challenging common carrier status in court.

Miller, who raised $750 during the latest reporting period, said both Brown’s and the commission’s proposals “can best be described as additional bureaucratic exercises that fail to address the power imbalance between pipeline companies and private landowners.”

In a statement to the Tribune, Brown said Miller "makes some valid points, particularly as it relates to properly disclosing the fraction of pipeline capacity being used for public transport."

Brown added: "Mark, however, is silent on the process through which landowners are properly notified of pending applications and how they can contest those applications. Landowners must be empowered to play a key role in the permitting process."

The campaign of Ryan Sitton, a Republican running for railroad commissioner, did not immediately respond to a request for comment for this story and did not respond to requests to comment for a story on Brown’s common carrier proposals. 

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