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Does pipeline owner have a conflict of interest as Parks director?

When it comes to regulation, industry has as much a right as anyone to promote its interests. People who have been involved in the oil and gas industry for years have a lot to offer to the administrative process and shouldn't automatically be excluded from government posts. It only makes sense to bring in experienced people who understand the issues.

At the same time, a fair argument can be made that industry bigwigs -- or opposition activists, for that matter -- can be truculent. Their positions can be unduly fixed by their particular experience. Here in California, we try to ensure a variety of voices are heard in the regulatory process. We know that stakeholders who are ignored now may well come back later with a costly, serious dispute.

They do so over in Texas, as well, but they're running into a bit of a dispute right now. In late 2015, the governor appointed Kelcy Warren, owner of the controversial Dakota Access Pipeline, to the Texas Parks and Wildlife Commission. Since that state's senate only confirms appointments during odd-numbered years, however, his appointment is only just now getting a hearing.

Under the Texas Parks and Wildlife Code, the governor is required to appoint a variety of experts from diverse fields to the commission, including historic preservation, conservation and outdoor recreation.

Warren, the 61-year-old billionaire CEO of Energy Transfer Partners, has made a mint in the oil pipeline business. According to Courthouse News Service, his Dallas home is worth $25 million. He also owns a 3,500-acre ranch in Colorado, the Lajitas Golf Resort and Spa near the Texas-Mexico border, and his own island near the Honduras.

As a TPWC commissioner, Warren would oversee pipeline easements in state parks. Unfortunately for his appointment, Texas law prohibits a person from being a member of a commission if they control over 10 percent of any business regulated by that department. Energy Transfer Partners owns two pipelines in West Texas, the Trans-Pecos and the Comanche Trail.

His TPWC position might also give him authority over recreational shooting at Lajitas Golf Resort and Spa, which he owns. The TPWC can prohibit shooting guns within 200 yards of a state park, which includes the resort.

Environmental groups including the Sierra Club and the Green Party, along with individual citizens, attended a hearing earlier this week to discuss Warren's nomination and potential conflicts of interest. A vote is scheduled for April 20.

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