When I think about the upcoming NAFTA renegotiations, I think about the origins of the Railroad Commission of Texas, on which I have the honor of serving.
The Texas Legislature created the commission in 1891. Its charge was to oversee the state’s transportation industry, specifically railways.
When oil and gas pipelines came along, the commission had already been doing similar regulatory work — and doing it well — for decades. Since pipelines raised many of the same issues as railways, it was given regulatory authority over them. Fast forward to today, and as most Texans know, even though we are still called the Railroad Commission, we are no longer in the railroad business.
Instead, we are one of the leading regulators of oil and gas in the world — thanks to Texas’ continued dominance of the industry. If it were a country, the Lone Star State would be in the top 10 globally for oil production and second in the world for natural gas production, behind Russia.
The commission has fulfilled its responsibility of safeguarding our natural resources, securing community safety and achieving economic development because of relationships that were first negotiated in a different sector more than 100 years ago. We may see a similar trajectory around the North American Free Trade Agreement.
Overall, NAFTA has been great for Texas. We run a trade surplus with our neighbor to the south, with Mexican exports accounting for 6 percent of the state’s GDP, compared to 1.3 percent nationwide. However, there are some areas where the original 1993 agreement is either silent or outdated.
President Trump’s plans to work with Canadian and Mexican officials to revise the treaty could offer U.S. businesses and consumers a once-in-a-generation opportunity to build on what came before. Given my focus in the energy sector, three areas I would like to see included in negotiations relate to energy infrastructure, investment and the environment.
Infrastructure development is already out ahead of Washington. American gas exports to Mexico have doubled in the last two years. By the end of 2018, six transnational pipelines will be carrying gas from the U.S. into Mexico.
But our policies and practices are not harmonized across national lines. A revised NAFTA could allow us to coordinate the location and funding of future projects and develop a uniform and comprehensive regulatory framework to deal with the transportation and distribution of energy across North America. As an acknowledged leader in this area, Texas could influence the standards ultimately set.