“Climate-fueled infrastructure disasters like the one still unfolding in Texas are coming for us all,” the lefty magazine Mother Jones apocalyptically intoned last February when Texas’ energy grid crisis left millions of Texans without electricity and shivering in the cold. A historic cold wave, not warming, the usual fear of climate activists, triggered the crisis, but why get bogged down in the details? Texas needed more regulation!
The New York Times, not unexpectedly, also fingered a culprit: not enough regulation in Texas! The Times opined:
The crisis could be traced to that other defining Texas trait: independence, both from big government and from the rest of the country. The dominance of the energy industry and the “Republic of Texas” ethos became a devastating liability when energy stopped flowing to millions of Texans who shivered and struggled through a snowstorm that paralyzed much of the state.
Part of the responsibility for the near-collapse of the state’s electrical grid can be traced to the decision in 1999 to embark on the nation’s most extensive experiment in electrical deregulation, handing control of the state’s entire electricity delivery system to a market-based patchwork of private generators, transmission companies and energy retailers.
Democrats and the media “seized upon” the February meltdown to demand more regulation and less reliance on the free market. But they had not reckoned with the fact-filled, calm and persuasive presentation of Christi Craddick, Chairman of the Texas Railroad Commission, who refuted their points. The RRC is the regulatory agency for oil, gas, coal and alternative forms of energy in the most energy rich state in the nation. It is a stalwart of the free market, and, if Texas suddenly became a highly regulated energy state, it would be the RRC that did an about face. In public testimony, Craddick showed that she had an impressive command of the facts and couldn’t be buffaloed.
“Some media outlets would have you believe that natural gas producers and frozen transmission pipes caused the power shortage across the state,” Craddick said in public testimony, “but I sit before you today to state that these operators were not the problem – the oil and gas industry was the solution. First, we did not have any frozen transmission pipelines. They continued to flow gas as much as possible. “When wellhead operations faced freezing conditions, power supply was cut and outages caused a domino effect of problems. Any issues of frozen equipment or delays in process restoration could have been avoided had the production facilities not been shut down by power outages. Meanwhile, natural gas was being pulled from storage across the state at maximum capacity. While the Railroad Commission continues to collect data, preliminary EIA reports shows that while other energy sources dwindled, natural gas producers backfilled the gaps and helped to restore supply to electric power plants once power was restored in the field. The natural gas producers in our state were instrumental in restoring power supply to Texans.”
Craddick has the rough and tumble of the Lone Star spirit and politics in her blood. She can’t be buffaloed.
If activists thought that Craddick would be verbally bludgeoned into supporting new and counterproductive regulations on the basis of hysteria, they didn’t know Craddick.
Craddick has the rough and tumble of the Lone Star spirit and politics in her blood. She can’t be buffaloed.
Christi Craddick’s father, state Rep. Tom Craddick, has long been a force to be reckoned with in Texas politics. Tom Craddick was so immersed in his second campaign for the Texas House that he almost missed showing up for Christi’s birth.
“He was working out in his campaign manager’s garage, and this was way before cell phones,” says Christi Craddick. “My mother was looking for him. Everybody was looking for him. Finally, somebody answered the phone in his campaign manager’s house and went out to the garage and informed him I was on the way. I came three hours later, so it’s nice that he was able to be there,” Christi Craddick says laughing affectionately.
“I was born in the middle of a campaign,” she adds. “We were always in a campaign in our house.”
Tom Craddick started his political career back when Texas was a one-party, Democratic Party stronghold and has the distinction of becoming the first Republican to rise to the office of Speaker of the Texas House since Reconstruction. His own father warned him, “Texas is run by Democrats. You can’t win.” But Tom Craddick won and now has been in the Texas legislature for more than five decades.
Christi Craddick never planned to be an elected official herself, but in 2012, she surprised herself and her family by running for a slot on the Railroad Commission of Texas. She won and went on to be re-elected in 2018, and later was unanimously elected to serve as chairman for the Commission. It is widely believed that, when the stars align, this consummate policy wonk will run for higher office in Texas—and where she sits now is pivotal in the state of Texas.
To understand just how important the Texas Railroad Commission is, the first thing you need to know is that it has absolutely nothing to do with railroads. The name lingers on from Texas history; the Railroad Commission was established with jurisdiction over railroads and terminals in the 1890s. But because it is responsible for regulating the oil and gas industry, Craddick’s testimony in the wake of the energy meltdown was of prime significance.
Craddick still believes that Texans know what is best for their oil and gas business, and she has long opposed one-size fits all policies handed down from Washington. Craddick made clear her belief in the free-market approach that, along with rich natural resources, has made Texas a leader in the production of energy last year when the Railroad Commission considered whether to prorate (or limit) oil and production as a way to help the state emerge through the pandemic lockdown. “The agency thoughtfully considered hours of testimony and industry input regarding agency-mandated production limits,” Craddick recalled.
“Eventually, we opted for a free-market approach that proved to be the correct choice. Even though the decision came with its fair share of challenges, the open market system that this state favors ultimately allowed for the industry to begin its rebound. The example can be carried over into a number of examples – a heavy-handed government only serves to stifle growth and innovation in the private sector, hampering economic development in this state.”
With a new administration in Washington that is hostile to fossil fuels, Craddick and her fellow commissioners have their work cut out for them. “We are watching the Biden administration,” Craddick continues, “and the people that they are trying to put in place and, yes, we’re very concerned as a state. Oil and gas is about a third of our state’s economy today. We obviously had a tough year this past year across every sector of the economy, but particularly in the oil and gas industry. And so, for this industry to recover, overregulating again and clamping down on an industry that has been the biggest job-creator is not what we need.”
The Obama administration, she says, imposed 144 new regulations on the oil and gas industry, but the Trump administration rescinded all but four. “The Trump Administration recognized that overregulating not just oil and gas, but any industry, doesn’t allow innovation, doesn’t allow the states to be in control, and they got it that states had a better concept of what was going on locally.”
Craddick worries that the Biden administration will heavily regulate the energy business under the guise of protecting the environment, and ultimately, this will be counterproductive. “When you look at the environment,” she says, “every energy source has a negative and a positive. I think that people on the far left have got in their minds that carbon is the worst thing ever. Well, Texas is one of the first states in the country to put carbon capture rules in place, and we’re leading in the country in using carbon capture technology. Our rules require that a business must put carbon back into oil fields if they are going to get more oil and natural gas out. And we’ve got storage plants. We’re one of the first states in the country to do that. That’s under Republican conservative leadership, and we’ve had it in place since 2003. It isn’t like we started yesterday.”
She compares Texas’s balanced approach to other states.
“A one-size-fits-all plan ends you up like California. There are some nice beaches in California, but their politics have gotten so far skewed, nobody can afford to live in California. …. They’re not improving their infrastructure. They want everybody to own an electric car, but if you can’t charge your car because you’re in a rolling brownout, what do you do? Or they want them to work from home but you don’t have any electricity on for that day, what do you do? They don’t have a lot of common sense in California, and I think that’s why everybody’s moving to Texas now. We just hope they don’t make us become California.”
Because of a twist of Lone Star history, Texas has an advantage over other energy-rich states—indeed, a fracking ban on federal land would leave Texas practically untouched. “Texas was a republic before we became a state,” Craddick says, “and our forefathers made sure when we became a state that we kept our state land. So, in Texas, only 5% of our lands are federal lands and a bunch of that is national park land. The difference between us and New Mexico, almost 50% of the lands in New Mexico are state lands, or federal lands, meaning they have to get a federal drilling permit. In Texas, because only 5% of our lands are federal, you can get a drilling permit from Texas. And so, from the Railroad Commission, we can get a drilling permit out in two days. The federal government, through the Bureau of Land Management, takes about 270 days to get a drilling permit out. So, you know, if the Biden Administration bans fracking, that wouldn’t necessarily affect Texas but it would affect New Mexico, Oklahoma, North Dakota, a lot of the Western states.
Craddick worries that the Biden administration will heavily regulate the energy business under the guise of protecting the environment.
Craddick emphasizes that a fracking ban wouldn’t just be a job-killer, it would hurt consumers as well.
“[Anti-fracking activists] think a ban will put energy out of business, and that’s their goal, but they forget what it then costs the person who is just trying to pay their electric bill. Their electric bill goes up. The cost of fuel goes up. So, if they’re going to drive someplace or they’re going to buy milk and bread at the grocery store, that cost to ship those products, just food stuff, has gone up.”
She adds that Texas has a long history with fracking. “People think fracking is new,” Craddick says. We’ve been fracking in this state for sixty-plus years, right? We’ve had rules in place for over 50 years for fracking. It all started in Texas, so of course we already have smart rules in place.
“So, when you look at Texas, when we do a rule, we have to look at how it affects East Texas, South Texas, West Texas, the Panhandle, and everything else in between. And that’s difficult to do. So, when you’re the federal government trying to come in and put a one-size-fits-all rule in place, it doesn’t work for us to put a one-size-fits-all rule in place very easily in Texas. There’s no way that works for Texas to be the same as Oklahoma, as North Dakota, as Wyoming. So, putting a one-size-fits-all rule from the EPA, for instance, is not a good idea.”
As with political campaigning, the energy business is something that’s been a part of Craddick’s life from the beginning.
She was born and grew up in Midland, Texas, in the Permian Basin area and home to a thriving oil and gas industry. In addition to being an elected official, Tom Craddick prospered in the energy business. It was an idyllic childhood. Nadine Craddick, her mother, served on various committees with another prominent Midland woman, future first lady Laura Bush. So engaged was Nadine Craddick in civic affairs that she was once president of two PTAs at the same time. Tom coached soccer and belonged to the Jaycees and the Lions Club. But politics was never far away.
“I went to my first Republican State Convention at 12,” recalls Christi, “and my first national convention was when I was 16. So, I’ve been going to conventions for a long time and been very involved with both state and national conventions. I was the chief page of the national convention in Houston, back in ‘92, I guess. Gosh, that seems like a long time ago.”
She graduated from Midland High School and went onto the University of Texas at Austin from which she earned both undergraduate and law degrees. She had made it pretty clear that she never wanted to run for office. “I was going to work for a law firm and make a lot of money,” she says. “That’s really important when you are young, right? Politics is hard on the family. And I’ve seen what running for office was and I really, at that point, had gotten more into the policy and really liked the policy side. Still do. If you ask me politics versus policy, policy wins for me every time. I just like getting into the issues and that’s hard to do a lot of times when you’re running for office. ”
Craddick practiced law, focusing on oil and gas, taxes, water, and electric regulation issues and environmental policy. When her father became Speaker of the Texas House in 2003, she began to do fundraising and run campaigns for him. In Texas, agencies go through a Sunset Review to determine whether they should continue and, if so, what improvements are recommended. When the Railroad Commission came up for its evaluation, Craddick became intrigued, “not just because of where I grew up but because of what the commission does, not only for Texas but across the country.” She was fascinated by the technology. Given to feminine Republican red outfits, Craddick comes alive when talking about things like horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing.
Given to feminine Republican red outfits, Craddick comes alive when talking about such things as horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing.
When word came that one of the commissioners was going to leave the commission, Christi knew she was going to break her no politics vow. “I looked at my parents and I said ‘I might want to run.’ And my mother was getting ready to sit down, and she was so surprised that she almost missed the chair. She said, ‘Are you serious?’ And I said ‘yes.’ I said I can do a better job, I think, then what’s going on and I’m going to run. And my parents said, ‘Well, you’d better go start working at it. That was in January and by July I was meeting with people.”
Craddick drove all over the state, hundreds and hundreds of miles, putting in long days to meet with as many voters as possible. After she won the primary, former Midland mayor, Ernest Angelo, Christy’s godfather, bragged to reporters that Christi had been victorious because she “showed she will do what it takes to win a state primary. She earned it.” And, by the way, there was another campaign baby. “Repeating history, my daughter Catherine was born in the middle of a campaign. A Thanksgiving baby in 2012. And so here she came and I’m in the middle of a campaign and my parents said, ‘Are you still running?’ And I said ‘absolutely.’”
Craddick immediately found a “lovely person” to be Catherine’s nanny. She is still with the family. “I couldn’t make it without Nanny and my family and friends,” Craddick insists. She and Catherine, 9, live in Austin. And here’s another way history is repeating itself, Christi, like Tom and Nadine Craddick before her, believes in talking about politics at the dinner table—and also when driving through her very liberal neighborhood in Austin. Austin has been described as one of Texas’s blue dots in a sea of red. Needless to say, in 2018 when Beto O’Rourke ran against Senator Ted Cruz, Craddick’s Austin neighborhood was a forest of O’Rourke signs.
“Catherine was learning to read, and we were driving down the street. You’d see signs and she would start reading from the back seat. You’d see Beto, Beto, Beto signs and she finally says, ‘Are we for Beto?’ And I said, ‘We are not for Beto.’ ‘Who are we for?” And I said, ‘We’re for Ted Cruz.’ And she said, ‘Where are the Cruz signs?’ I said, ‘Well that’s not important, but let me explain why we are what we are for.’
“And my explanation to her has been this: I said, ‘You get an allowance, right?’ She said, ‘Right.’ I said, ‘Well, we believe as Republicans that you ought to be able to spend your money to go buy what you want to. Don’t you think that’s fair and the right way to do it?’ She agrees. And I said, ‘But if you’re a Democrat, you believe that you should give the government half or more than half that money so it can decide where to spend your money.’ And she says, ‘That’s not fair.’ And I say, ‘That’s right. That’s why we’re Republicans.’”
She goes on to explain how opportunity is better than tax-payer-funded government dependence. “She gets it,” Craddick says proudly. “We have a lot of conversations like that. If she’s not getting this from me, I am not doing a good job of educating her.”
Craddick’s ability to explain energy issues in plain English will come in handy as energy-producing states come under attack from the powers that be in Washington. The lady in red who loves to talk about horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing will be in high demand.