By Kevin Crowley and Sergio Chapa
Often an overlooked, down-ballot race, the election for Texas Railroad Commission garnered more attention than usual this year. Wright burst onto the political scene in March when he surprised pundits by winning the Republican primary, defeating incumbent Commissioner Ryan Sitton. It was later revealed that, as a businessman in the oil services sector, Wright had accepted responsibility in a business deal that soured for 255 environmental violations from the regulator and paid $181,000 in fines.
The race boiled down to Wright’s pro-business, pro-Trump platform versus Castañeda’s pro-environment message. Castañeda, a lawyer from Dallas, hoped her message would appeal to climate-conscious voters in a state that has become a less-certain Republican stronghold in recent years.
Wright, a bullrider-turned-rancher and oil-field service company owner, says the agency needs to make decisions with less deliberation, allowing businesses, employment and oil production to thrive.
The oil and gas industry poured hundreds of thousands of dollars into his campaign. Wright received contributions this summer that included more than $54,000 from political action committees for energy companies such as Ovintiv Inc., Energy Transfer LP, ConocoPhillips and Pioneer.
Michael R. Bloomberg, the founder and majority owner of Bloomberg LP, the parent of Bloomberg News, donated more than $2.6 million to Castañeda’s campaign. In total, Castañeda raised more than $4.1 million and Wright more than $1.3 million.
Wright is expected to be sworn into office in January. Environmentalists, who supported Castañeda, have vowed to keep flaring in the spotlight and continue to pressure the agency to reduce it.
“These results mean that the Railroad Commission will likely continue to be a feckless regulator, failing to protect public health and the environment from the oil industry’s worst excesses,” said Emma Pabst, global warming solutions advocate with Austin-based Environment Texas. “We know from polls that the public wants to reduce flaring — even some in the oil industry and on Wall Street favor reform.”