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Republicans retain tight grip over Texas oil and gas regulator

HOUSTON (Reuters) - A Texas Republican businessman swept to victory in the Texas Railroad Commission over a Democratic energy lawyer who had sought to put climate change on the state energy regulator’s agenda.

Jim Wright’s win keeps the Republican Party’s 25-year dominance over the commission and other state-wide offices. It overseas companies producing 4.7 million barrels of oil per day.

Texas voters also backed U.S. President Donald Trump over Democrat Joe Biden and sent Republican John Cornyn to his fourth U.S. Senate term.

The contest for a seat on the commission turned into a referendum on the regulator’s rubber-stamping of emission permits, with energy lawyer Chrysta Castañeda calling it a health and safety issue.

Wright, who raised less than a fifth of what his Democratic rival did, held a more than 1 million vote lead on Wednesday, with about 86% of the ballots counted.

Although Democrats had hoped they might win their first statewide seat in more than 25 years, “Texas remains a pretty reliably Republican state,” said Mark Jones, a political science fellow at Rice University.

Castañeda campaigned to end routine flaring and venting of natural gas in the state.

“If we would just do those two things, we would have a huge impact on both greenhouse gases and old-fashioned air pollution,” she said.

Castañeda raised about $3.7 million, including $2.6 million from billionaire Michael Bloomberg. She conceded defeat in a Facebook post on Wednesday.

Wright had rejected any ban on flaring, or burning unwanted natural gas, saying it would cause the United States to “become more dependent on foreign sources of oil”.

Wright was fined previously by the regulatory agency after taking responsibility for an oilfield waste site. He promised to work to boost production and find markets for the excess natural gas.

“There’s people losing their jobs. There’s people losing their businesses,” Wright said. “Texas’ economy is built on oil and gas.”

Reporting by Jennifer Hiller; Editing by Peter Cooney and Angus MacSwan

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