Jeff Starkweather endorsed by The Indy, Sierra Club, State Employees and AFL-CIO

News release/ April 23, 2012

Jeff Starkweather’s record of fighting for good jobs, strong schools, a clean environment and civil rights won him the endorsements of four major organizations comparing candidates for election to NC House District 54, representing all of Chatham County and a portion of Sanford.  The endorsements, based on questionnaires, interviews and candidate records, are from: The Independent Weekly, the State Employees Association, the Sierra Club, and the AFL CIO.

“I’m overwhelmed and honored by these endorsements and others I have received during the campaign from current and former elected officials, community leaders and supporters all over the district,” Starkweather said.

The Independent called Starkweather “a longtime champion of the environment, social justice and sound growth policies.” The newspaper said that the retirement of Rep. Joe Hackney, “leaves a need for a candidate who has a deep familiarity with the issues facing this district. We think Starkweather’s views on energy and growth could continue Hackney’s work; his willingness to defend public education and to stand up to social conservatives is also impressive.”

“[Starkweather] has the kind of fire Democrats need in the Legislature,” The Independent concluded.

The NC Sierra Club said it endorsed Starkweather because of his lengthy track record promoting environmental protection and renewable energy and sustainability, and his opposition to fracking.

Jeff Starkweather is a strong environmental advocate who has a long history of working for environmental causes in Chatham County and North Carolina as a whole,” the Sierra Club said. “His key environmental positions include promoting alternative energy and its use in North Carolina, strengthening North Carolina’s Renewable Energy Standards, opposing changes in laws to allow fracking for natural gas until its economic benefits are proven to outweigh its environmental costs, and searching for ways to collaborate with citizens and environmental experts to make North Carolina a model of sustainability.”

The NC AFL-CIO and Triangle Labor Council based their endorsement on Starkweather’s answers to a questionnaire and interview on employment and economic development issues. The State Employees Association of North Carolina’s EMPAC endorsement was based on a questionnaire and interview about issues facing NC public employees. They endorsed Starkweather and other selected General Assembly candidates “because we feel they understand the importance of the valuable services our members provide,” the SEANC stated in its news release.

Starkweather has lived and worked in Chatham County for 40 years. He is the former editor and publisher of The Chatham County Herald and a retired attorney who specialized in civil rights and employment law. In 2009, the Western Chatham NAACP named him a Humanitarian of the Year and in 2006 he was a News and Observer Tar Heel of the Week.

He currently serves on the Chatham County Economic Development Corporation Board and the Triangle South Workforce Development Board. In those economic policy leadership positions he was instrumental in the development of the county’s economic development strategy and industrial incentives policy and in bringing a job link center back to Chatham. He has also served on Chatham’s Sustainable Energy and Green Building Advisory Board and he chaired the Affordable Housing Advisory Board.

Sierra Club endorses Jeff Starkweather for State House

The N.C. Chapter of the Sierra Club has endorsed Jeff Starkweather for NC House District 54 because of his lengthy track record promoting environmental protection, renewable energy and sustainability, and his opposition to fracking.

Jeff Starkweather is a strong environmental advocate who has a long history of working for environmental causes in Chatham County and North Carolina as a whole. His key environmental positions include promoting alternative energy and its use in North Carolina, strengthening North Carolina’s Renewable Energy Standards, opposing changes in laws to allow fracking for natural gas until its economic benefits are proven to outweigh its environmental costs, and searching for ways to collaborate with citizens and environmental experts to make North Carolina a model of sustainability,” the Sierra Club stated in its announcement.

Jeff has now received endorsements from every major organization that has compared his positions and track record with his opponent’s. He is endorsed by: The Independent Weekly, the State Employees Association of NC, the Sierra Club and the NC AFL-CIO.

He is also endorsed by 17 current and former elected officials on county, municipal and school boards in Chatham and Lee counties.

And he has the support of Women for Jeff, a campaign advisory committee comprised of more than40 active women in Chatham and Lee counties.

What I wanted to say

I was so impressed and moved by the statements made by so many local people testifying at the fracking hearing at Fearrington last night.  They did their homework and they spoke from the heart and the head. And the message was heard loud and clear all the way to Raleigh.

I wasn’t permitted to speak at the hearing last night because I had already spoken at the Sanford hearing ( in fact, I’ve been speaking out about this at every opportunity for months). But here’s what I had planned to say.

First, I want to thank my friend Chatham Commissioner Sally Kost, who pushed and prodded DENR to have a fracking meeting in Chatham County.  And of course I want to acknowledge former House Speaker Joe Hackney and Senator Bob Atwater for assisting Sally in making this happen.

I also want to thank the DENR staff who worked so hard on this report with so little time and so little staff resources.

Finally, I want to “thank” the DENR administrator, who gave us an unexpected gift by ignoring the substance of the report, and writing the now famous conclusion from nowhere.

Despite the fact that:

●  methane gas  has been found in nearby fracking wells;

● EPA recently found fracking fluid in nearby wells;

● no significant longitudinal studies, laboratory,  or animal studies have been conducted about water contamination by fracking;

● the shale gas deposits in North Carolina are significantly shallower than those in other states whose experience DENR was relying upon;

●  the consumer protection section was blank;

● the Department of Commerce declined to conclude that fracking would have a positive impact on our economy;

● and on, on, on…

Nevertheless, the conclusion said that fracking could be conducted in North Carolina safely IF it was properly regulated.

That insulting finding clearly did not fool anyone.

The only thing the conclusion accomplished is to help energize what is clearly the largest grass-roots environmental movement in this area in a long time.

I want to thank  leaders like Elaine Chiosso of the Haw River Assembly and Colleen Kendrick of the Deep River Clean Water Society, among many others, who have spearheaded this awesome grassroots movement here in Chatham County. I feel fortunate to have been able to play a small role in this movement and to be able work with and listen to such amazingly intelligent, diligent, passionate, poignant and humorous allies.

Clearly, the case has not been made in this report or anywhere else that economic benefits of allowing fracking for shale gas in North Carolina outweigh its costs.  Given Speaker Tillis’s statement that those proposing or opposing legislation must make the “business case,” I do not see why North Carolina should waste any more time and resources to determine if fracking can be done safely with the proper regulatory regulations and resources, unless and until the economic case can be made.

Based on my experience and research over the last eight years on community economic development strategies, I sincerely doubt that this case can be made in Chatham or anywhere else in the Triassic basin.

All this was predicted when energy experts said some time back that we had reached peak oil – the point where more than half of the total supply of potential oil has been exploited. Those experts predicted that the attempts to extract hard to reach oil and gas deposits would be more expensive and  require new experimental  and risky technologies.  Does the 5-mile-deep BP oil spill ring a bell?  Recall that oil engineers and federal regulators assured us this technology was incredibly sophisticated and safe. Fracking presents the same risky story.

We need move to away from fantasy of energy technological utopias and toward a more pragmatic and sustainable energy strategy – energy conservation and alternative energy. This is where the jobs of the future are, not  in the temporary positions filled mostly by outsiders that fracking might provide.

This is the energy strategy the people of Chatham and Lee are telling me they prefer.  And like my friends Joe Hackney and Bob Atwater, I will listen primarily to people who live in these communities, not the outsiders who just want to exploit us.

–Jeff Starkweather

State fracking study does not support its conclusion

There’s a significant disconnect between state officials who claim fracking can be conducted safely in North Carolina and the evidence, or lack thereof, contained in their own recently released 350-page study of the issue.

I have just read the “N.C. Oil and Gas Study” conducted by the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) and the Department of Commerce.  Regarding their findings, I can only say, with apologies to Gertrude Stein, “There’s no there there.”

In fact, the page dedicated to answering the troubling question of how to protect the rights of rural landowners is actually blank, except for one sentence. It states: “This section has not yet been provided by the Department of Justice.”

Never mind that the industry has already leased a significant amount of land in Lee county without any regulatory protections in place.   The blank page in the report says it all: It’s as if someone expects answers to fall out of the sky at some convenient point in the future, apparently after the state legislature decides to make fracking legal in North Carolina.

What’s more, on the environmental safety questions, the report shows that DENR, like the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, does not have sufficient information at this stage about the use of this new technology to make any claims about its safety.

Yet, despite these inconvenient information gaps, the report concludes: “DENR believes hydraulic fracturing can be done safely as long as the right protections are in place.”

The problem is,  DENR did not provide the scientific evidence required to support this belief. As this report acknowledged, “[T]his analysis is constrained by the limited information available at this time.”

I thought DENR was a fact-based, not a “belief-based,” organization. EPA, with considerably more scientific resources at its disposal, will not even complete its study of just one issue regarding fracking – water quality – until 2014. Yet with $100,000 spent over a few months of internet “research,” DENR is willing to express its “belief” about areas the EPA has yet to address.

I recall House Speaker Thom Tillis responding to my question about fracking at a forum in Pittsboro, saying that he was open to hearing “the business case” for or against fracking.  Yet, the Department of Commerce, in its section of the state report, was not able to make a case one way or the other.

The report’s economics review section reads:  This analysis is not intended to indicate a position by the North Carolina Department of Commerce (Commerce) for or against…”

Maybe I’m missing something, but I thought the whole point of this study was to determine whether it was prudent for the state to authorize hydraulic fracturing, based on conclusions about likely economic, environmental and health impacts.

The problem, of course, as Commerce concluded, is: “Until the industry is more developed, and economic and multiplier relationships are better represented in the data, model outputs will not be robust.”  In other words, they do not have enough information to predict economic impacts.

At best, Commerce projected that fracking might result in an additional 858 jobs statewide after six years. That’s not much of an economic benefit considering the unknown potential economic costs. In addition to the concerns about groundwater pollution, the other unknowns not taken up in the study include impacts on competing industries (such as local farms, wineries and other tourist attractions) and state and local costs for impacts to other infrastructure (especially roads) and services (law enforcement, schools, etc.).

I appreciate the hard work DENR and Commerce employees put into this rushed and underfinanced study. But it’s an affront to all North Carolinians that the objective contents of the study were ignored or distorted to reach an unsupported conclusion.

The only real conclusion one can draw from this study is that we still don’t know enough about the true economic, environmental and health costs to authorize hydraulic fracturing for gas anywhere in North Carolina.

–Jeff Starkweather, prepared for DENR Public Hearing on Fracking Study, March 20, 2012 in Sanford.

Pittsboro urges legislature to say ‘no’ to fracking

Thumbs up to the Pittsboro Town Board for passing a resolution tonight that urges the North Carolina General Assembly to  maintain current laws saying no to fracking anywhere in our state. The Board voted 5-0 after hearing from more than half a dozen local residents, including me, who expressed concerns about the negative impacts fracking could have on Pittsboro’s environment, groundwater, public health, economic development, sustainable agriculture and unique quality of life.

Citizens testifying about the dangers of fracking included Gary Simpson from Chatham Citizens for Effective Communities, Haw Riverkeeper Elaine Chiosso,  Colleen Kendrick of the Deep River Clean Water Society, John Wegner, Barb Tessa and others.

Here’s the resolution:

“Whereas hydraulic fracturing or ‘fracking’ is a method of extracting natural gas that involves injecting at an extremely high pressure, an undisclosed mixture of water, sand, and toxic chemicals to break up shale or other rock formations otherwise impermeable to the flow of gas;

“Whereas, North Carolina does not currently allow either horizontal drilling or hydraulic fracturing, and the current North Carolina study of in-state shale gas resources and of the potential impacts of reversing this ban and allowing drilling and fracking to extract these resources is being undertaken without adequate funding and without adequate time;

“Now Therefore Be It Resolved that we, the members of the Town of Pittsboro Board of Commissioners urge the North Carolina General Assembly to maintain current laws in North Carolina that prevent hydraulic fracturing and horizontal drilling in the State and to take no action that would weaken these laws before it is fully demonstrated that North Carolina public health, waters, land, air, economy and qualify of life can be fully protected from impacts of allowing shale gas development in the state.”

–Jeff

Environmentalists persuade commissioners to keep stream protections

Environmentalists, indeed all Chatham citizens, won a surprising victory Monday night when the conservative majority on the Chatham County Board of Commissioners reversed  a 3-2 vote to gut ephemeral stream protections in the county’s watershed protection ordinance. The dramatic reversal came about after all of the local citizens who testified on the proposal, including me — all arguing forcefully against changing the regulations — had left the public hearing room in mass once the majority voted the first time to gut the stream protections. Commissioners had heard testimony from 14 individuals, including six conservation  organizations. When a member of the County’s own Environmental Review Board reported that they also opposed the Commissioners actions, and conservative Commissioner Walter Petty agreed with Commissioner Sally Kost, who had been fighting all along to keep the regulations in place, the board invited the crowd back into the room.  Commissioners then voted 5-0 on a compromise resolution that kept most of the protections in place. I was one of the 14 who spoke against changing the regulations and in favor of maintaining stream buffer protections. This is what can happen when we all work together for our community. Here is my testimony:

I support keeping Chatham County’s science-based ephemeral stream buffer requirements.

The proposed revisions are solutions in search of a problem, or from my perspective, they seem to stem from an erroneous theory about local economic development.

First, we have had zero problems with the current stream buffer requirements because we have had virtually no development requests since were enacted in 2008.  The conservative or pragmatic approach to  concerns raised would be wait until we have had some real, on-the-ground complaints from actual development requests.  Any developer can seek a variance under the current ordinance that will allow him or her to vary from specific buffer requirements using best management practice that cause less land disturbance and preserve aquatic life and habitat and protect water quality. Then, if there appears to be an ongoing pattern of these variance requests, the county could consider modifying the ordinance accordingly.

Second, I specifically challenge the view that these stream buffers have a negative impact on property values or sustainable economic development – i.e. our ability to support local businesses and attract new ones.  There’s plenty of research showing that protecting watersheds, streams, rivers and water quality enhances the economic attractiveness of a community.  Indeed the recent Chatham Park video shown to the Economic Development Corporation made it clear that Chatham’s rural character and environmental quality are the principle assets the developers are using to promote and attract RTP-type high tech companies to this area.  Moreover, economic cost/benefit studies have found that stream buffers and other environmental protections increase property values for land owners and residents.

Beyond these technical arguments, this issue is personal.  I have two intrepid grand daughters, ages 6 and 4, who live with my daughter and son-in-law in North Chatham where their drinking water source is Jordan Lake.  Buffers around ephemeral steams  are needed  to safeguard their health, and the health of  thousands of residents and tourists living and recreating in the Jordan Lake watershed area.

Those girls also love to play in our creeks and rivers.  Those buffers are needed here because they act as filters to keep them clean.

Finally, my wife and I and many other local residents and tourists,  enjoy bicycling and hiking along those creeks and rivers where we enjoy the wildlife and natural beauty of these waters.  Beautiful streams and rivers do not protect themselves in the midst of development pressures.  They require the type of community protection and enhancement that our current ordinance ensures.

If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. Please maintain our current pragmatic stream buffer requirements.

–Jeff Starkweather

Let’s not turn eastern Chatham into Cary

What follows is my testimony to Chatham County Commissioners during a public hearing this week on the draft Chatham-Cary land-use plan covering the eastern area of the county adjacent to where Cary has been involved in development annexations:

“Ironically, rural America has become viewed by a growing number of Americans as having a higher quality of life not because of what it has, but rather because of what it does not have.”

So stated Don A. Dillman, one of the nation’s foremost rural sociologists.

Most residents of this area and the vast majority of Chatham citizens do not want to see Cary bulldozing itself further into eastern Chatham.

The  land-use plans for this area will affect everyone in Chatham County, particularly our hard-pressed taxpayers, as well as future generations.

I have spoken on this issue before. Tonight, I have three general bottom-line concerns:

First and foremost, the elected officials of both Chatham and the Town of Cary should be guided primarily by the desires of the people who live in the affected area. Based on my direct observation and review of the joint meetings, I do not believe this has occurred since our new Chatham board majority took over these negotiations.  Residents in the affected area should be able to determine the destiny of their community.

 Second, residents of this area have clearly expressed their wish to maintain our rural character. They oppose suburban sprawl with its pollution, traffic jams, noise, and visual clutter.   They have expressly stated they do not want to become “Cary-fied” by having to rely on Cary’s urban and suburban design standards.

Chatham residents in this area want Chatham design standards in place before the plan is approved, not in 2013.

Finally, residents of this area want a direct say concerning development proposals in their community.  They want to be able to have a voice in whether “voluntary satellite annexation” or what I refer to as “developer annexation” of nearby land is allowed.  No matter how detailed this plan is, it is not legally enforceable if a subsequent Cary elected board decides to go in a different direction.

For this reason, it is imperative that Cary and Chatham come together to have the General Assembly enact a local bill that gives both boards the power to approve or disapprove a development, annexation request, or change in the plan. Without such authority, this joint land-use plan exercise is meaningless window dressing.

Unfortunately, we gave away our leverage on this issue when the current board approved the Western Wake sewer line across the county without insisting on this requirement as part of the agreement.  But now we should test Cary’s good faith and not approve this plan until they formally agree on a local bill giving Chatham equal land use authority over this area.

In closing I want to quote from 16th Century poet William Cowper:  “God made the country, man made the town.”  What he said then is true today.  Let us not destroy the country God made in order to accommodate the expansion of Cary.

–Jeff Starkweather