Sign up for The Brief, our daily newsletter that keeps readers up to date with the most essential news from Texas.
PARIS, Texas – In the heart of northeast Texas, near the replica of the Eiffel Tower wearing a red cowboy hat, Cynthia Rice-Tims decorated the tables of the Celebrate It party hall with products petroleum-based household appliances.
Dental floss, petroleum jelly and a variety of plastic-wrapped products were meant to remind dozens of attendees of the importance of oil and gas in everyday life. Rice-Tims is president of the Republican Women of the Red River Valley, which co-hosted the forum in late April for the two GOP candidates to face off in a runoff for the Texas Railroad Commission, and she has Also keen to point out that the state agency overseeing the state’s oil and gas industry has nothing to do with the railroads.
“It’s amazing how many people have no idea what a railroad commissioner does,” Lamar County Republican Party Chairman Scott Hommel told the audience. Then he pledged to push the state GOP to change the name of the agency: “My voice will not be silenced by changing the name of the Board of Railroads, because people need know what it is.”
The audience burst into their first round of applause of the evening.
During the debate, local Republicans were asking the candidates — outgoing Railroad Commission Chairman Wayne Christian, a 71-year-old former state representative and Grammy-nominated gospel singer, and oil lawyer and 37-year-old Sarah Stogner Gas. – what the state has done to improve the state’s electrical grid after last year’s killer winter storm, what it plans to do about the practice of burning natural gas through flaring and the strictness with which the state should regulate the oil and gas industry.
Joe Gaines, an oil and gas businessman, attended the event and said he wanted to see if it could help him decide who to support in the May 24 election.
“Well, she’s a career politician and she has some great ideas,” Gaines said.
The winner will face Democrat Luke Warford in the November general election.
Before debating in Paris, the two Republican candidates had barely appeared together since Christian failed to win at least 50% of the votes in the March primary and found himself in a second round with Stogner, a candidate for the first Times who raised her profile over Super Bowl weekend by posting a nearly naked video of herself atop an oil pump.
Christian was the first and spoke about how Texas exported liquefied natural gas to help Europe during its energy crisis following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the importance of oil and gas for the national economy and how Democrats are trying to abolish industry in the name of slowing climate change.
When he finished, Rice-Tims, Hommel and the audience started asking questions – starting with the name. Christian was asked to explain what he did in his six years with the Railroad Commission to change the name of the agency.
Christian said the state legislature, not the Board of Railroads itself, has the authority to change the name of the agency. Lawmakers didn’t seem interested, so Christian said he instead helped the agency change its logo, which now has “Leading Texas energy” and lists oil and gas, coal and pipelines under de larger letters “RRC”.
Throughout the evening, Christian tried to convince the audience that he is the conservative fighter who will protect the state’s oil and gas sector even as local governments and the free market take an increasing interest in sources. renewable energy. Stogner, he argued, will over-regulate the oil and gas industry.
During the campaign, Christian — who has a big advantage over his opponent in terms of party support and campaign money to spend — accused Stogner of being pro-abortion, anti-gun and pro-death. “sexualized content in schools”. Her campaign posted some of Stogner’s old tweets, including one that said men shouldn’t legislate decisions women can make about their own bodies (“Stay out of my womb please”) and another questioning the value of legislation to ban criticism. race theory in Texas schools (“But I know very well that we have to learn[ing] child[s] the reality of slavery and the discrimination that still exists”).
Stogner pointed to Christian’s lack of experience in the oil and gas industry compared to her decade as an oil and gas lawyer – and what she sees as Christian’s desire to do whatever the oil and gas industry wants.
Stogner told the audience that she wanted to focus on reducing groundwater contamination and air pollution in Texas and tried to reassure them that she was conservative enough by saying that she opposes abortion, promotes gun rights and does not want to defund police departments.
When someone asked her if she supported shutting down the Keystone XL pipeline project — a series of partially constructed pipelines between Canada and the United States that President Joe Biden canceled on his first day in office — she replied. “Absolutely not” and explained that the Board of Railroads does not have jurisdiction over interstate pipelines like Keystone.
Then it pivoted to the 2021 winter storm that left millions without power for days and caused hundreds of deaths after a combination of freezing temperatures across the state and soaring demand for power for shut down power plants and the natural gas facilities that supply them with fuel. .
“We have jurisdiction over intrastate pipelines [that are completely within state borders]that’s why you should ask why people died in the freeze,” Stogner said.
She hammered Christian and his fellow commissioners for failing to ensure that state gas pipelines did not fail during the extended subfreeze period.
Hommel, walking between the tables in the audience, looked impressed. “She’s fighting back,” Hommel told a Tribune reporter as Christian spoke.
More than a year after the winter freeze, the Board of Railroads has not developed rules on how oil and gas companies should prepare for extreme weather. Meanwhile, the Public Utility Commission of Texas, which regulates power plants, drafted and implemented weatherization rules in October.
Christian avoided talking about the power grid and last year’s winter freeze, even when asked by Rice-Tims about the grid’s future.
“The biggest threat we have right now is political,” Christian said, before launching into criticism of efforts to curb climate change that often target the oil and gas industry.
After Rice-Tims asked about flaring, Stogner said she wanted to make sure oil producing companies aren’t releasing excessive carbon emissions and polluting the air.
“We need to educate people about what the oil and gas industry is doing,” she said. “But it’s not that important that we can contaminate our air, contaminate our groundwater.”
Christian said the United States produces oil in a cleaner and more environmentally friendly way than other major energy producers in the world such as China, Russia and Saudi Arabia.
Stogner also opened up about her tell-all trick on the pumpjack — “I wish I had done it sooner” because it helped her stand out and make a runoff, she said — and why the her campaign logo is a unicorn.
Stogner said that after being told to “sit down, shut up, you little idiot” all her life, she then started her own law firm and learned to fly planes.
“I’m tired of people telling me things are impossible,” she says. “Unicorns exist, so here I am – I’m not a politician, I don’t accept any campaign contributions.”
Christian, who received generally friendly questions throughout the night, was at one point asked about the corruption allegations which surfaced after he voted – against the recommendation of Railway Commission staff – for approved a permit for an oilfield waste disposal facility, then days later accepted a $100,000 campaign donation from the company that received the permit.
“No. 1, there is no ethics case or ethics complaint against me at this time in the State of Texas,” Christian said. “Nothing illegal or immoral,” he added, before listing all of his industry endorsements.
“They like what I’m doing with oil and gas in Texas,” Christian said.
Stogner, who lives on a ranch in Monahans, west of Odessa, said Christian was a bought-off and donor-controlled politician.
“I have [contaminated] groundwater, he’s taking $100,000 kickbacks,” Stogner said, referring to leaking pipes in his area of West Texas. “Why are we angry? Are we mad that I’m half naked on a pumpjack? Are we mad because I looked good on a pumpjack? »
Hommel, who won the election earlier this year to chair Lamar County Republicans, said the event helped the crowd learn more about the candidates and the agency that many Texans don’t really understand. .
Did it help him decide who he will vote for?
“Umm, that’s tough,” Hommel said. “I’ll have to simmer on it.”
Tickets are on sale now for the 2022 Texas Tribune Festival, taking place in downtown Austin from September 22-24. Get your TribFest tickets before May 31 and save big!