Republicans poised to retain grip over Texas energy regulator

HOUSTON, Nov 4 (Reuters) - A Texas Republican businessman who ran a low-key campaign took a commanding lead on Tuesday over a better-financed Democratic energy lawyer who sought to put climate change on the state energy regulator’s agenda.

A victory by Jim Wright would keep the Republican Party’s 25-year dominance over the Texas Railroad Commission, which oversees oil and gas in the top U.S. oil-producing state. Republican John Cornyn also won 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 issue.

Wright, who raised less than a fifth of what his Democratic rival did, was up by nearly 1 million votes, with a 53%-45% lead with about 83% of the votes 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 had not conceded the race on Tuesday night and said on her Facebook page she was waiting for final results.

Any ban on flaring, or burning unwanted natural gas, would cause the United States to “become more dependent on foreign sources of oil,” Wright said.

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)