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Former Railroad Commissioner Lands Job at Law Firm

Barry Smitherman, the only person to serve both on the Texas Railroad Commission and the state’s Public Utility Commission, will practice energy law at Vinson and Elkins, the international law firm announced Tuesday.

Chairman Barry Smitherman of the Railroad Commission of Texas in his office, May 31, 2013.

A former Texas energy regulator has found a new job.

Barry Smitherman, the only person to have served both on the Texas Railroad Commission and the state’s Public Utility Commission, will practice energy law at Vinson and Elkins, the international law firm announced Tuesday.

Working from Austin, he will advise energy industry clients that have business before federal and state agencies throughout the country, the firm said. Smitherman will also be involved in litigation and transactions.

Vinson and Elkins’ “robust energy practice provides the perfect opportunity for me to leverage the insights I gained with the Railroad Commission and Public Utility Commission,” Smitherman said in a statement. “I am excited to embark on this next stage of my career.”

“Barry possesses a unique combination of public and private sector knowledge that will benefit our clients and numerous practices within our firm,” Mark Kelly, chairman of Vinson and Elkins, said in a statement. 

The fourth-generation Texan left the Railroad Commission at the end of 2014. He finished third in the 2014 Republican primary race for attorney general. Ryan Sitton now fills his seat on the three-member commission.

Appointed to the Railroad Commission in 2011 and re-elected the next year, Smitherman helped oversee a historic surge in oil and gas production. Spurred by technological advances like hydraulic fracturing, Texas reached production numbers unseen in more than three decades. The commission – which jointly regulates and champions the industry – also drew increased scrutiny from those who raised concerns about the industry’s impact on the environment and public health.

Smitherman, who chaired the commission from early 2012 until August 2014, oversaw a major overhaul of well construction requirements related to related to casing, cementing, drilling, well control and completions.

He also helped successfully fight legislative efforts to overhaul the agency, with included changing the commission’s name, shortening the period in which commissioners can raise campaign funds, barring commissioners from accepting contributions from parties with business before the commission, and requiring commissioners to resign before running for another office. 

A fierce critic of federal intervention in Texas energy policy, Smitherman once called for a “conservative crusade” against the Environmental Protection Agency.

Before joining the Railroad Commission, Smitherman spent more than six years on the Public Utility Commission – half that time as its chairman. There, he helped spearhead the 3,600-mile Competitive Renewable Energy Zone power line project – built to send wind and other electricity from West Texas to growing cities in the east. The $7 billion project helped make Texas the nation’s leader in wind energy production. 

Smitherman previously held jobs as an investment banker, prosecutor and bond attorney.

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