Agency for Rural Texans
The Office of Rural Community Affairs was created by the 77th Legislature to develop policy specifically addressing economic and quality of life issues affecting small and rural communities across Texas. The Office administers programs supporting rural health care, the federal Community Development Block Grant non-entitlement program, and programs designed to improve the leadership capacity of rural community leaders. The Office also coordinates and monitors the state's effort to improve the results and cost-effectiveness of programs affecting rural communities, as well as provide an annual evaluation of the condition of rural Texas communities.
House Bill 7 created ORCA by merging three existing programs administered by the state: the Center for Rural Health Initiatives (CRHI),previously associated with the Texas Department of Health, the Texas Community Development Program (TCDP) and Local Government Services (LGS), both from the Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs.
State agencies in oil and gas
The Texas Railroad Commission (RRC) is Texas’ oldest regulatory agency, founded in 1891. In addition to certain duties related to railroads, the modern agency is responsible for regulating natural gas utilities, intrastate oil and gas pipelines, liquefied petroleum and natural gas dealers and handlers, oil and gas production and the surface mining of coal, uranium and iron ore gravel.
The RRC’s Gas Services and Oil and Gas Divisions are charged with ensuring safety within their respective industries and preventing the waste of precious state resources. While the “easy” oil in Texas may be mostly gone, this hardly means that Texas’ reserves have run dry; by some estimates, as many as 120 billion barrels of oil, worth trillions of dollars, still remain trapped under Texas soil. The difficulty lies in developing ways to produce it economically.
In 1998, the RRC began offering Technology Seminars to assist the industry in doing just that. These seminars are designed to help small producers apply emerging and existing technologies to boost recoveries. The federal government is helping through Department of Energy funding for recovery projects channeled through the University of Texas at Austin.
A Railroad Commission program, meanwhile, is placing workable wells that would otherwise be plugged into an experimental recovery program. The Texas Experimental Research and Recovery Activity (TERRA) seeks to keep marginal wells producing through an applied research program, while allowing the wells’ producers to receive a two-year severance tax abatement. The University of Texas’ Bureau of Economic Geology has a similar program, STARR (State of Texas Advanced oil and gas Resource Recovery), which seeks to maximize oil and gas production and thus royalty income on Permanent School Fund lands.
The General Land Office (GLO) was created soon after Texas seceded from Mexico in 1836, to determine which lands were private and which were in the public domain. After Texas entered the Union in 1845, the GLO was charged with overseeing Texas’ public lands. Since that time, the agency also has been given the responsibility for managing many of the state’s physical assets. In 1991, the agency gained the responsibility for cleaning up and preventing oil spills in waters along the Texas Gulf Coast.
State agencies in agriculture
The Texas House of Representatives’ Committee on Agriculture and Livestock has oversight over several state agencies and the agriculture program of the Texas A&M University System. Several of these agencies have regulatory authority and others administer promotional programs and assist the agricultural sector.
The Texas Department of Agriculture (TDA), founded in 1907, has a number of marketing and regulatory responsibilities related to Texas agriculture. TDA’s mission is to make Texas the nation’s leader in agriculture by promoting Texas products in the state while cultivating new global markets. Its regulatory responsibilities include controlling plant pests and diseases, administering seed quality programs, registering pesticides and certifying pesticide applicators, and certifying the accuracy of weights and measures used in commercial transactions.
TDA also is working to attract more value-added processing industries to the state, encourage the growth of biotechnology research in Texas and help producers through loans and direct assistance (such as cost-sharing programs). TDA’s Texas Agricultural Finance Authority makes loans for agricultural processing and micro-enterprises.
The Office of Rural Development, once under the Texas Department of Economic Development (TDED), was shifted to TDA by the 76th Legislature in 1999. The office oversees a statewide economic development program for Texas’ rural areas. TDED shares resources with the office, including its database and business recruitment and site selection resources.
The Texas Animal Health Commission (TAHC) was created in 1893 with the early mission of controlling fever ticks that were devastating the state’s cattle industry. TAHC’s current mission is the prevention, surveillance, diagnosis, control and eradication of diseases and conditions affecting livestock, poultry and exotic livestock and fowl. Some of the diseases targeted by TAHC have human health implications and have hurt the production and marketability of the affected species. TAHC has led livestock producers to achieve major success in eliminating brucellosis, eradicating screw-worms and eliminating foot and mouth disease. These programs have saved the livestock industry several times more than their cost.
The Texas Food and Fibers Commission primarily promotes academic research in natural fibers and plant food protein research. The commission facilitates research grants from sources other than state funding. It allocates research dollars to the Texas A&M University System, Texas Women’s University, Texas Tech University and The University of Texas at Austin. Commission members include the A&M chancellor and the presidents of the other three universities.
The Texas State Board of Veterinary Medical Examiners licenses veterinarians to practice in Texas. The board comprises nine members appointed by the governor.
The State Soil and Water Conservation Board came into existence shortly after the Dust Bowl days of the 1930s. The board provides technical assistance to agricultural producers through cooperative efforts with the federal Natural Resources Conservation Service. The board provides state appropriations to 216 local soil and water conservation districts that provide technical assistance with conservation programs to agricultural landowners and producers. Many of these districts raise additional funds by renting out heavy equipment used in conservation projects and selling cover crop seeds.
The Texas Agricultural Extension Service (TAEX) provides information services and other assistance to communities in every county of the state. Only a few of Texas’ 254 counties lack a TAEX office, and those are covered by staff in adjacent counties. Funding for county programs comes from federal, state and county budgets. The county commissioners courts have oversight over the budgets of local TAEX offices, and state support is provided by the Texas A&M University System.
The Texas Agricultural Experiment Station (TAES) operates 13 major research centers across the state that conduct scientific research specific to crops in their regions. Other research activities are directed toward natural resource industries and the safety of the food supply. TAES employs more than 460 scientists in 17 academic departments who work in concert with Texas A&M’s Colleges of Agriculture and Life Sciences and Veterinary Medicine. The agency also conducts research with Texas A&M’s College Station campus interdisciplinary research centers and coordinates research with the USDA Agricultural Research Service at five locations throughout Texas.
Finally, the Texas Forest Service (TFS), created in 1915, provides rural fire protection, fire prevention and disaster assistance. TFS also administers programs providing landowner and community assistance, water quality improvement and reforestation. The agency is involved in enhancing forest resources through pest control, tree improvement and scientific forest management. TFS’s Forest Resource Protection Department maintains an active statewide fire prevention and suppression program and provides leadership when other disasters strike. TFS operates the Pest Control Laboratory, the Forest Products Laboratory and tree nurseries necessary for various reforestation efforts.