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Railroad Commission rejects Robbins’ complaint

Tuesday, May 7, 2019 by Jo Clifton

The Texas Railroad Commission, which hears appeals of certain gas utility rates, has dismissed an appeal from the city of Austin’s decision related to Texas Gas Service’s conservation adjustment fees. Utility customers pay those fees along with charges for natural gas service to defray the cost of the company’s conservation programs. Consumer and energy conservation advocate Paul Robbins complained to Council last year about Texas Gas Service’s conservation programs, basically saying they cost too much and save little energy. But Council approved the rates and Robbins filed an appeal with the commission. Subsequently, Administrative Law Judge John B. Dodson ruled that the city “has exclusive jurisdiction over the gas utility rates and related programs within its boundaries.” Therefore, the commission has no authority to hear the case. Robbins was not particularly surprised to lose, but he was surprised and quietly outraged when he learned that the city sought to assess litigation expenses it had incurred during the proceeding. In ruling against the city’s request for an unspecified amount of fees, the judge said, “Mr. Robbins describes himself as an activist, but he also is an Austin resident and TGS customer, and his grievances raised in this docket appear to be good-faith attempts to bring legally remediable claims. This ruling granting dismissal is not a determination that his grievances are without merit, but rather that the Railroad Commission is without jurisdiction to hear them.” Robbins told the Austin Monitor that he filed a public information request to find out how much the city spent on the litigation. He did not receive that information, he said, only the hourly salaries of people who worked on the case. Anyone who knows Robbins will not be surprised to learn that he has not given up on this particular quest.

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