Gerlt: Railroad Commission plan could lead to higher gas bills in Texas

Gerlt: Railroad Commission plan could lead to higher gas bills in Texas

LUBBOCK, TX (KCBD) - On Monday, Lubbock Mayor Glen Robertson and Mayor Pro Tem Jim Gerlt will travel to Austin and testify before the Railroad Commission.

"We're going down to testify before the Railroad Commission who's about to make a terrible blunder," said Mayor Pro Tem Gerlt. "They are trying to change what the legislature killed last legislative session, saying it was bad legislation."

That legislation he is referring to is House Bill 1148 and 1149.

"In essence what House Bills 1148 and 1149 last time would've done is take away the city's legal leg to stand on making an appeal and making it almost impossible for the cities to have any kind of say in the rate cases," he said.

"Center point, the big utility company, the evil empire of utility companies, they don't like having city intervention in setting rate cases; they wanted to go directly to the Railroad Commission, but they couldn't get special just for them so they're doing it for the state."

Mayor Pro Tem Gerlt says citizens of Lubbock need to take notice, because if the Railroad Commission approves this plan, your wallet could pay the price.

"If we lose our ability to have any say in how the rates are set, then there's really no jurisdiction that's going to rule," he said. "The Railroad Commission in the past has been an appellate board if you will; if the city and the utility company could not come to an agreement then there could be an appeal to the Railroad Commission and they could come in and take care of it. There would be an appeal process. The city's going to be taken right out of the process and it will be taken straight to the Railroad Commission."

"The citizens of Lubbock need to be concerned about this because we've been able to keep our gas rates very low by working hand in hand with Atmos, we've had a great relationship with Atmos for over two decades. I'm not worried so much about them price gouging but if our hands are taken off of it and there's really nobody overseeing it, then that's kind of an invitation to them to up it a little bit more than maybe is necessary."

Mayor Pro Tem Gerlt says it's not just representatives from Lubbock that will be attending. People from all across the state will testify, asking the Railroad Commission not to approve this plan for which Gerlt says no one has asked.

"None of the cities have said our task of doing rate cases is just onerous, we just can't do it, somebody help us - nobody has said that and none of the other utility companies have said we've got an unworkable situation somebody help us. It's being driven by centerpoint," he said. "It's open knowledge that the people who run for the Railroad Commission are heavily financed in their campaign not directly from the utility companies but indirectly from the utility companies. It is absolutely a conflict of interest when they receive 60, maybe 70 percent of their campaign finances from the very companies that they're regulating. That is absolutely wrong, they should not be doing it."

He feels it's clear that the Railroad Commission has tried to make this process as difficult as possible.

"When we had the public hearings a couple of months ago there was such an outcry to the Railroad Commission about stop this, that's outside of your expertise, some of the legislators told them you shouldn't be doing this, this is a legislative issue, it's not a police issue. We thought we had it killed, we thought they were going to say, okay we've had enough, we're not going forward with this and then all of the sudden at the last minute they post it. They've done it the legal positing time, but then they reschedule it, so now we're trying to get down there again. It's a long way to Austin, it's hard to get down there, they know that, so I think they make it as inconvenient as possible," he said.

Mayor Pro Tem Gerlt says he and Mayor Robertson will do their best to convince the commission that this plan should not be approved, but he says the more citizens that speak out, the more the Railroad Commission will be forced to listen.

"Contact your state representatives, contact state senator, send a message to the Lieutenant Governor," he said. "I think if the people across the state could send emails to the Railroad Commissioners and say stop what you're doing, we want our cities to have a say in this, don't take that away from us. I guarantee that Austin doesn't like it when Washington says we know better than you so we're going to take the authority away from you and we're going to tell you what's best for you that's the exact same thing here we don't like it when Austin says we know better than you we can handle it better than you and you can't."

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