Elections 2020EnergyIssuesMichael Bloomberg Throws $2.6 Million Cash Behind Democratic Railroad Commission Candidate

With a cash infusion provided by the former New York City mayor, the Railroad Commission race becomes even more contentious despite being overshadowed by other races on the ballot.
October 26, 2020
Billionaire tech mogul, former New York City Mayor, and 2020 Democratic presidential primary candidate Michael Bloomberg injected a small fortune into a Texas statewide race — but not the race one might expect.

First reported by the Texas Tribune, $2.6 million has moved from Bloomberg’s coffers to Democratic Railroad Commission candidate Chrysta Castañeda’s campaign. 

No Democrat has won a seat on the Railroad Commission in 30 years.

Bloomberg said in a statement, “Chrysta Castañeda will be a champion for Texans – her commitment to improving people’s lives is clear. I’m glad to support Chrysta in her campaign to be the next Railroad Commissioner, because she has the vision and experience needed to build a safer, healthier, and more environmentally prosperous future for the state of Texas.”

The New York billionaire notably poured over $1 billion into his presidential run earlier this year, $50 million of which flooded Texas.

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While lesser-known, the race is pivotal in a state which relies so heavily on its energy sector. The Railroad Commission (RRC) regulates and collects production data for Texas’ oil and gas industry.

About the donation, Castañeda said in a statement to The Texan, “This campaign has been called the most important environmental race in the country, so I am grateful to be receiving such an unprecedented level of support.”

Castañeda solidly defeated former Texas state representative Beto Alonzo in the Democratic primary runoff and now faces Republican Jim Wright who upset incumbent Ryan Sitton back in March.

She’s keyed in on restricting methane flaring and strengthening environmental regulations during her campaign. Flaring intensity — the amount of gas burned per barrel of oil produced — has decreased 64 percent since 2011 and emissions given off overall have decreased 77 percent since 1970. 

But environmentalists assert net-zero emissions should be the standard.

Matt Gallagher, CEO of Parsley Energy, which led the push for the RRC to prorate oil production earlier this year, said in the joint release with Castañeda, “Flaring is a black eye for the Permian. [Parsley Energy is] working aggressively every day to reduce our carbon footprint and know that others can do the same. I support Chrysta’s positions on flaring and methane reduction and believe increased enforcement at the Railroad Commission is long overdue.”

Castañeda has also criticized the RRC for what she sees as lax approval of permits for flaring and other oil and gas operations.

“It has allowed us to place television ads all over the state. Most Texans have no idea what  the Railroad Commission does, so we’re committed to educating them about its significance for every Texan,” she added.

In a television ad that will be buttressed by this Bloomberg donation, Castañeda knocks Wright for his connection to an ongoing environmentally-related lawsuit concerning violations made by a company Wright at one point owned.

But when the violations occurred, Wright had already sold the operation and later repossessed it and fixed his purchaser’s violations.

On the donation, Wright told The Texan, “Texas is not for sale to radical environmentalists and billionaires from New York and California who want to endanger our country’s economy and move energy production overseas.”

“Make no mistake, we are in a war for the future of Texas and the battleground is the Texas Railroad Commission. Texans know the value of having a strong oil and gas economy that helps provide millions of jobs for Texas citizens. They don’t need failed politicians from New York telling them how to vote. And they don’t need radical environmentalists from California telling us to shut down our fossil fuel industry,” he concluded.

In total, Castañeda pulled in $3.7 million in the final month of the election. Without including the rest of Castañeda’s $3.7 million haul that has yet to be disclosed, less than 10 percent of her campaign funding has come from within Texas.

In addition to the Bloomberg contribution, she received $500,000 from Richard and Dee Lawrence, environmental activists that focus on funding initiatives that decrease carbon emissions and $125,000 from the environmentalist organization Sierra Club.

Last week, Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden stated he wished to “transition” from the oil and gas industry. 

Asked about this, Castañeda told The Texan, “Oil and gas is a key part of our economy. We can both have good paying oil and gas jobs and protect our environment simply by enforcing the laws already on the books. I’m committed to that strategy when elected to the Railroad Commission.”

The Huffington Post called the RRC race “The most important environmental race in the country” — and that was before Sitton was shocked by the political upstart, Wright.

Since the primary win, Wright has raised nearly $630,000.

But having been outspent seven to eight times in the primary, Wright is no stranger to facing well-funded opponents. And Castañeda will need every one of those millions of dollars to flip the seat in eight days.


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Brad Johnson

Brad Johnson is a senior reporter for The Texan and an Ohio native who graduated from the University of Cincinnati in 2017. He is an avid sports fan who most enjoys watching his favorite teams continue their title drought throughout his cognizant lifetime. In his free time, you may find Brad quoting Monty Python productions and trying to calculate the airspeed velocity of an unladen swallow.