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Texas election ‘do or die’ for Libertarian Party

Mark Miller, Texas Railroad Commission candidate
Mark Miller, Texas Railroad Commission candidate

The biggest election in Texas this year is one you probably haven’t heard of; the Texas Railroad Commission, a state agency that does not regulate railroads.

There’s no election for governor, lieutenant governor, U.S. Senate, or anything like that. This means the highest profile state-wide elections in Texas boil down to judicial and Railroad Commission seats, with the latter at the top of the ballot.

Despite its name, the commission does not regulate railroads, not anymore, but instead primarily the oil and gas industry. The agency also has regulatory jurisdiction over pipeline transporters, the natural gas and hazardous liquid pipeline industry, natural gas utilities, the LP-gas industry, and coal and uranium surface mining operations. It serves as both a regulator and promoter of Texas’ energy industry, and this can put the agency at odds with its mission to ensure property rights are respected and environmental destruction is kept in check.

Texas Tribune has produced an extensive background history on how this agency came to be and what it has done to control energy prices.

Also, if Libertarian Party candidate Mark Miller doesn’t do well in this election, the nation’s third largest political party loses ballot access in Texas. That means every Libertarian candidate must spend a lot of time and money collecting signatures in order to get their name on the ballot. If the party loses ballot access, it could take hundreds of thousands of dollars and an untold number of hours getting it back.

It almost assures that the number of Libertarian Party candidates available for voters to choose from will be drastically decreased due to the burdens of getting on the ballot.

In a 4-way race this November, Miller needs to secure 5 percent of the vote in an election that will be dominated by straight-ticket voting and a general lack of voter knowledge about this agency or the election of its commissioners.

Miller, who has a B.S. in Engineering and a Ph.D., first started his career in the oil and gas industry as a petroleum engineer in 1972. He later began work as an associate professor with the University of Texas at Austin before returning to the industry. In 2012 he founded Promethean Technologies Group, LLC, serving as the chief executive officer and the chief technology officer for the company.

Miller ran for the same position in 2014, placing third and drawing 145,365 votes, good for 3.2 percent of the total vote. In a presidential election year, he may have to draw at minimum double the votes he received in the previous election.

He believes that this year’s Libertarian Party presidential candidate Gary Johnson, the former two-term Republican governor of New Mexico, will lend a strong hand to down-ballot Libertarians.

“Disillusionment with the Democrat and Republican Presidential candidates is at unprecedented levels. Governor Johnson has been getting much public attention since he was nominated at our national convention. We believe that this attention will help down-ballot candidates in Texas, especially those that have serious qualifications and credentials, such as myself,” Miller says. “Texas voters will find that both the top of their national ballot as well as the top of their state-wide ballot will include two very serious and very credible candidates.”

Miller says that while getting 5 percent of the vote is critical, he believes much higher numbers are possible, and says that perhaps as few as 30 percent of the votes could mean the Libertarian Party capturing its first state-wide seat.

He adds, “Short of actually winning the election, even 10% or 15% of the vote would mean that the Libertarian Party and the principles we stand for would garner increased attention that would create viable alternative political choices for Texas voters.”

A hot button issue this year and last has been the subject of fracking. Many believe that the practice is not only harmful to the environment, but that it also is causing earthquakes.

Miller has been quoted on the matter as stating “I promise to ensure that regulations designed to protect groundwater quality will be appropriately administered by the Railroad Commission. If contamination should occur due to negligent oil and gas operations, I also promise to use whatever powers the Railroad Commission has to hold those operators accountable. At this point in time, however, there is no reason that this important technology should not be applied to producing energy for Texas and the rest of the Nation.”

He expanded on that quote, saying:

All oil and gas production includes the production of waste water. Wells that have been hydraulically fractured are no exception. Most of the produced waste water is naturally-occurring water from subsurface formations, but is none-the-less not suitable for surface disposal.

For many decades, the oil and gas industry has been dealing with this issue by injecting waste water into deep non-petroleum-bearing formations. The large number of wells being developed using hydraulic fracturing has correspondingly increased the amount of waste water that must be disposed of.

Though this is no evidence of widespread contamination of ground or surface waters with oilfield waste water, there is evidence that in some cases waste water disposal wells can and do cause minor earthquakes. Where there is occurring, the Railroad Commission should require appropriate changes in injection conditions or even cessation of injection. Fortunately, there are only a few places around the state where earthquakes are linked to waste water injection, meaning that the vast majority of Texas’ 7500 waste water injection wells are being safely operated.

Given the emergence of industrial hemp as a subject for state legislators and its ability to not only provide food and fibers, but also replace the usage of oil in making plastic and fuels, Miller was asked about his position on hemp being legalized in Texas and if there were any prospects for the usage of hemp in the oil and gas industry.

“I’m not aware of hemp products being used in the oil and gas industry, but I could well imagine that there could possibly be uses were such products commercially available,” he states, adding “I see no reason why government should interfere with the free-market of a naturally-occurring and safe substance such as hemp.”

Currently hemp can be used for many products in Texas, however it cannot be grown here and must be imported from other states and Canada.

Miller’s campaign is focusing on three main issues.

He is advocating for increased transparency, including a name change for the commission to more accurately reflect its activities, and a disavowal of the Commission’s role as both industry champion and regulator.

Regulatory reform is a priority as well to make sure that the Commission focuses solely on government’s primary duties to protect property, freedoms, and common natural resources.

He is also wanting an increased focus on protecting surface property rights, as well as those of subsurface mineral rights owners.

Connecting with Texans on these issues and generating interest in such a little-known election for an agency that few people know much about will be his biggest problem. To help people understand more about the agency, his campaign website has been designed to help break down the issues so they are easily understood by voters.

With incumbent Commissioner David Porter (R) declining to run for re-election, Miller will face off against Republican candidate Wayne Christian, Democratic candidate Grady Yarbrough, and Green candidate Martina Salinas in November.

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Stephen Carter

Stephen Carter is a 30 year old journalist and information technology specialist living in Waco, Texas and serves as Deputy Director for NORML of Waco. He has been working with the cannabis movement since 2009. He founded Texas Cannabis Report in 2013 to bring Texans accurate cannabis related news.

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