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Public Citizen, landowners sue Railroad Commission

Friday, July 24, 2020 by Jo Clifton

Two landowners and the Texas branch of the watchdog group Public Citizen filed suit Thursday against the Texas Railroad Commission over the commission’s decision to waive certain rules for oil and gas drillers. As a result of the waiver, rules that require the industry to plug oil wells and remediate oil and gas waste pits within a year of ceasing operations were suspended. The plaintiffs say the commission acted illegally when it suspended the rules on May 5, using the Covid-19 pandemic as a pretext. “Why is giving handouts to polluters a priority during a pandemic?” said Adrian Shelley, director of Public Citizen’s Texas office. “While Texans are preoccupied with Covid-19, the Railroad Commission waived rules for oil and gas drillers. Low demand for oil and gas has some experts predicting bankruptcies. This is the wrong time to waive requirements to clean up waste pits and inactive wells,” Shelley said. “If companies are let off the hook and don’t clean up their messes, taxpayers will.” Under the Texas Constitution only the Legislature can suspend laws, the suit says. According to the lawsuit, the Railroad Commission has acted in a way that effectively suspends the Texas Open Meetings Act, the Texas Administrative Procedure Act and the Texas Natural Resources Code. Austin attorney Jennifer Riggs is representing Public Citizen and the two Texas landowners. She said the railroad commissioners “think they are above the law. The harm threatened here is serious and irreparable. Once groundwater is contaminated, the harm cannot be undone. The land will never be the same.” Public Citizen is seeking injunctive relief from the commission’s actions. There are about 6,200 abandoned wells in Texas.

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