Panel Ponders Overhaul of Corporation Commission
Wolfe, Lou Anne, THE JOURNAL RECORD
An appointed state legislative panel is eyeing ideas to overhaul the Oklahoma Corporation Commission, and will consider some of them at a meeting today in the State Capitol.
The Commission on Natural Gas Policy will consider some of the ways Texas regulates its oil and gas and utility industries. This fall, some commission members met in Austin with the staff of the Public Utility Commission and the Texas Railroad Commission.
Whether Oklahoma's three corporation commissioners ought to be elected statewide, as they currently are, or appointed by the governor and confirmed by the state Senate, also likely will get some discussion.
"I think one of the problems seems to be the length of time that a regulatory matter takes to get through the commission, whether it's a rate increase, decrease or new application. In other words, I think one of the biggest problems is the bureaucratic layers that different functions of the commission have to go through," said state Rep. Larry Rice, D-Pryor, chairman of the House Energy and Natural Resources Committee. He is vice-chairman of the Commission on Natural Gas Policy, and made the trip to Austin.
"I would be remiss if I didn't say it's some of the Legislature's fault for the built-in steps," Rice said. "The Legislature has reacted in years gone by to crises or problems over there, and it may be time that we revisit some of those."
The Oklahoma Corporation Commission regulates oil, gas, utilities, intrastate trucking and railroads.
The Texas Railroad Commission has three elected commissioners who regulate the state's oil, gas and transportation industries. The first time Texas regulated utilities on the state level was in the mid-1970s, Rice said. At that time, a three-member Public Utility Commission was created, with members appointed rather than elected.
"One option would be to break up the (Oklahoma) commission, and have a public utilities division or an oil and gas division. But right now, we're just looking at the options and trying to figure out what would be the best solution," Rice said.
Senate Natural Resources Chairman Kevin Easley, D-Broken Arrow, said: "I believe if we take the best of the rules and regulations currently used by Texas and combine them with the best of our rules and regulations, we can develop a better, more streamlined regulatory system in Oklahoma."
Easley, who chairs the Commission on Natural Gas Policy, said Texas' regulatory process was very efficient, and he hoped Oklahoma would adopt some of its ideas and methods. "There is so much we can do, if we make some major changes," he said. "For example, often all it takes to space a well in Texas is an administrative order. This is much quicker than our state's full-blown hearing process, and saves oil and gas producers both time and money."
Texas' Public Utility Commission makes decisions in a more timely fashion than Oklahoma, Easley added. "I'd like to see us change that."
Whatever the natural gas commission comes up with, it must be forged into legislation for consideration by state lawmakers.
The corporation commissioners are included in this process, and Commissioner Bob Anthony is not so sure that it would be wise to change from Oklahoma's current system of electing the regulators.
"There have been 33 commissioners since statehood, and 11 of them first came to the commission by appointment," he said. "All you have to do is examine the history of those 11 people, and you will find they were primarily political appointments and not based on regulatory experience and expertise," he said.
"To have the governor appoint commissioners just puts all the political control in the hands of the governor, instead of the voters. …