1. Local Climate Impacts
2. Gas Drilling and Development Setbacks
3. Renewable Commitments
4. Landfill Expansion & Zero Waste
5. Land Development and Green Spaces
6. Community Engagement
1. Local Climate Impacts
What are your greatest concerns about the impacts of climate change on Denton and its residents, and what must the city do to mitigate those impacts? What barriers exist to getting these solutions enacted?
Denton is an A+ city with F-rated air quality enabled by a C minus city government. That is actually a step up from the D and D minus track records of past city councils, but our people and environment deserve better. I’m proud to be part of the A minority on Council boosting our environmental GPA into the C range, but the people of Denton deserve far better, and I’m hopeful the November elections will give the people of Denton the A government they deserve.
This is the era of the Anthropocene, which means climate change caused by people; it is the irresponsible actions and inactions of people in government, far more than the general public that are responsible for the negative impacts we’re seeing in the form of F-rated air quality, depopulation of natural habitats, and destruction of natural resources.
To mitigate these impacts at the local level, we will need a grade A majority on Council after November 3rd committed to pass legislation to:
-Bulk up our skeletal outdated “sustainability plan” into a real Zero Waste Plan and Green New Deal for the 21st century that empowers activists and communities who put people and climate before private profit
-Cancel the toxic landfill expansion and stop taking other cities’ trash
-Stop the use of inorganic pesticides, artificial fertilizers, and toxic biosolids, and replace them with organic and environmentally responsible substitutes
-Decommission the coal plant and come up with a plan to decommission the gas plant that’s losing us money and replace it with a renewable energy source that will pay off the debt of that $225 million toxic mistake without raising rates on our ratepayer utility owners who didn’t get a say on the gas plant
-Strengthen our tree ordinance to actually preserve trees and urban forests and to not put a price on mature trees, instead of catering to developers like my opponent who support keeping the ordinance weak to allow developers to destroy a majority of existing mature trees for a price.
-Pass stricter laws protecting the health, safety, and income of Denton workers in environmentally hazardous jobs, preventing industrial pollution in Denton, holding corporate polluters accountable to their workers and the public, and preventing environmental racism and classism that pollutes some parts of town more than others.
Our current barriers to achieving these goals are:
– a C minus city government that enables and greenwashes instead of moving us forward
-an F-rated state government that preempts cities from passing critical environmental protections, sells out to corporate polluters, and has a compromised TCEQ and corrupt “Railroad Commission” that fails to sufficiently regulate polluting industries and hold them accountable
-and an F-rated federal government that imposes solar tariffs, destroys the EPA, and denies that climate change is even real.
If climate change means gradual desertification we could abandon flush toilets and live in adobe or even underground. If it means heavier and more intense rainfall we could push our buildable zones back to the 500 yr. flood datum instead of the 100 year elevation. If high wind events become more extreme we could adopt a building technology in use today that has withstood 200 mph winds, ground movement, and forest fires; it adds about 15% to the cost of a conventional home that is shredded by a tornado.
Perhaps you’ve heard it said: adapt or die? Note carefully; that is a personal decision. Anything coercively communal is pushing a rope. The city doesn’t build houses; it monitors their construction. The flood plain datum won’t be changed w/o experiential evidence, and rules for stronger houses won’t be adopted until solidity becomes obviously more valuable than ostentation. There are no barriers to personal preparation. Real historical truth: even in the face of an invading army some will not flee. If impending death is not convincing enough, why frustrate your life and waste your time working on “getting solutions enacted”?
Put your labor into building your own sturdy home, with your own hands, and you will weather the storm.
2. Gas Drilling and Development Setbacks
The city recently voted to expand reverse setbacks on development near gas wells to 500 ft. Do you believe the 500 ft reverse setback is sufficient to protect public health? What measures would you like to see implemented to mitigate health concerns from potential air, water, soil, and fire concerns related to gas wells?
HELL NO, 500 FEET IS NOT ENOUGH! (Caps, cussing, and exclamation point for added emphasis). 500 feet is an improvement on the previous 250, but the latest science clearly shows that 1500 feet is the bare minimum for public health and safety. In spite of misinformation to the contrary, reverse setback caps of any size needn’t infringe on property rights or constitute “a taking”: all existing structures can and should get automatically grandfathered in, and there is nothing in the new increased reverse setbacks, or in any future increased reverse setbacks, preventing anyone from rebuilding or improving in the case of a disaster or even for regular maintenance. On Council I fought for a minimum distance of 1500 feet, and had only 2 other votes (Briggs and Meltzer) out of 7 to back me up on that, even though this new reverse setback legislation actually reversed injustices to existing “noncompliant” properties under the prior 250-foot reverse setbacks who were not grandfathered in or even informed by previous city councils. Even our compromise of 500-feet, which we needed to get a 4-vote majority, was a narrow win and a hard-fought victory, as we fought misinformation disseminated by special interests and even by the City Attorney, who specializes in oil and gas law and who I believe has overreached his advisory role to block environmental progress and willfully misrepresent the truth too often for me to trust his advice. He is a major obstacle to environmental progress, as are the major opponents to Briggs (Mayor), Meltzer (D6), and myself (D6), and as would be November 3rd defeats of the only vocally environmentally-aware candidates running for the 2 other Council positions : George Ferrie [D1] and Jon Hohman [D2]). Briggs, Meltzer, and I are being challenged in this election by environmentally reactionary opponents funded by thousands of dollars from real estate and developer PACs who profit from destroying trees that clean the air poisoned by the fracking industry, and from selling the “mineral rights” attached to fracked properties.
I hope November we finally have a majority on Council willing to mandate the common-sense measures I fought for and lost in my first term:
-an increase to at least 1500 feet
-mandatory soil testing near gas wells
-increased air quality monitoring near gas wells and real accountability for offenders
-mandatory capping of inactive wells
-a Council effort to pressure the Texas state legislature to reverse the pre-emptive statewide “ban on bans” HB40, and to
-THE REINSTATEMENT OF OUR DEMOCRATICALLY-DECIDED FRACKING BAN
Well heads rarely leak, but detectable vapors, primarily benzene, evaporate from the saline water in the condensate tanks. We measure from edge of plat rather than from the tanks and this gives 100’ or so greater distance than cities’ ordinances that are structure-to-structure based. Generally there’s a breeze at ground level mixing pollutants into air. If you run a calculation for a truncated cone 600’ long, a beginning radius of 5’ (lid of the tank), expanding at a modest 24 to 1 diffusion rate, it yields a dilution of 338,000 to 1, using only the upper half since airborne HC doesn’t appreciably move into the ground. Diffusion is affected by wind speed and greatly by molecular weight, but this rough math gives perspective; distance is a huge dilution factor.
Given that Barnett gas is clean enough to go into the grid w/o sulfide removal, that well heads have real time leak detection, very few failures, and repair crews immediately dispatched to make repairs, I would not lose sleep. New horizontal gathering wells are a greater point source of gas so greater oversight is called for, but since production of the formation has dropped fireball size should not be greatly enlarged, an increase in radius requires a cubic increase in volume. Disposal of saline condensate has been a greater problem.
Objectively, the greatest pollution risk indoors originates indoors from the chemicals inside our homes. It’s where we spend most of our time. Plastics can be full of endocrine disruptors, a verifiable, observable effect.
3. Renewable Commitments
Denton has committed to using only 100% renewable energy and reducing air pollution. Recently there was a possibility City Council would have to decide whether or not to sell its share in the Gibbons Creek Coal Plant, which would restart the plant and create non-renewable energy and air pollution. The Gibbons Creek site still may be sold to be used for industrial processes that could create harmful emissions. How would you ensure Denton upholds its commitment to renewable energy and reducing air pollution?
The Gibbons Creek Coal Plant has been an environmental and economic disaster since Day 1, and I can’t wait for it to be decommissioned. I have promised to vote no to any sale that would not guarantee its decommissioning. I will do everything I can to ensure that no new toxic industry pops up in its place. There’s a lot that remains to be seen, and I will continue to proceed with caution, continuous research, and skeptical questioning, but for now it appears that the decommissioning of the coal plant is going to happen. I will proceed with cautious optimism and not take anything for granted moving forward.
This subject is personal for me, as I spent a couple years of my life fighting the source of generation intended to replace the coal plant plant before that substitute generation source, the Wartsila gas plant known as the Denton Energy Center, ever existed. I was elected in 2018, but before that I ran and lost a high-stakes election against an incumbent in 2016 when the $225 million gas plant, which has turned out to be an even more burdensome economic liability than we (activists and concerned individuals and communities) warned, was the most contentious issue in the election. Had I won in 2016, there would be no gas plant today, and ratepayers could breathe easier for now and for the long term, in more ways than one.
To make our commitment to clean energy and air more than just greenwashed PR, we need a Council majority willing to commit to what I’ve been fighting for for years on and off Council:
-a decommissioned gas plant replace with a renewable resource that will help ratepayers save money instead of giving them asthma and unjustified utility bill increases
-a concrete plan to make, use, and incentivize 100% cheap renewable energy in Denton, instead of just a 100% renewable “portfolio” on paper
-a ban on public investments in the fossil fuel industry.
If we can salvage anything from the Gibbons Creek Coal Plant then we ought to do so. Coal fired electricity is such a poor economic proposition today that without some indulgence from the state, it is unlikely. If we sell the Gibbons Creek site, it’s true it might be used for an industrial purpose and produce emissions. I assume you are not so doctrinaire that you consider CO2 to be a harmful emission. If that is so, and the will of the People, then let’s be forthright, write it off, and dedicate the site to trees, bamboo, or hemp. For us to dictate the future use of the site clouds any possibility that we could sell it. Imagine that you are a buyer for a moment; if your intended use becomes a bust you may not be able to extricate yourself.
If I sell a car and the next owner drives it into the Post Office am I responsible? How then are we responsible for the future use of the site? Under the legal doctrine of covenants we can exercise some control, but are we not guilty of overreach? Does our influence not have a natural, logical limit? Shall we buy up land elsewhere just to set it aside? I can’t seem to find that provision in our Charter. We may instead buy land here to use as a Park, perhaps with the greater proceeds we’d get by recognizing the right of others to do as they see fit.
4. Landfill Expansion & Zero Waste
Denton is in the final stages of permitting to expand its landfill to over 200 ft high. Right now, over 50% of annual trash disposal is coming from outside cities and businesses at wholesale rates. What kinds of programs and policies would you consider to reduce trash volumes at the Denton Landfill from within the city and from outside cities and businesses? Would you consider any recycling mandates for businesses or apartments, or food waste diversion mandates (composting, food donations) for food businesses?
As I have emphasized repeatedly on Council, Denton desperately needs a comprehensive Zero Waste plan. Denton residents and local small business owners have let us know in countless letters and emails that they want a Zero Waste plan for Denton. Right now we have no vision to even limit waste, outside of our current recycling efforts, and have instead counterproductively invested actual ratepayers money to expand our landfill’s trash heap to skyscraper height when it’s not even at 50% capacity, and consists mostly of other cities’ and entities’ trash, dumped on us for a fee. I have consistently voted against and have fought both the landfill expansion and the acceptance of other cities’ and entities’ trash for money.
We need to:
-stop taking other cities’ and entities’ trash
-institute residential and commercial food waste composting with door-to-door service
-institute mandatory recycling for apartments and businesses
-make hazardous waste disposal more accessible
-institute a plastic bag ban and challenge the state when they preempt it on us, or at the very least incentivize it so that city businesses will stop using plastic bags even without a plastic bag ban
-reduce plastic use, and incentivize reuse citywide
-partner with DISD for less waste in schools
Understanding the land fill problem needs a little background. A few years ago it wasn’t run so well, perhaps because it was such a challenge to build it. At the end of the day too much cover soil was used and the trash was not placed in a logical, incremental way. This took more excavated soil, more fuel, and left gaps in the trash layer. I personally witnessed this when I went to the landfill several times. The crush and cover loaders were too small for their large iron wheels. The rotating inertia of the heavy wheels would snap the drive axles. This was horrendously expensive to repair. New management corrected these problems. Purchasing heavier, sturdier loaders had a high capital cost. Other fleet purchases were necessary as well, and some of the other operations were not yet optimized. Plain and simple, we were in a hole.
This is why we are taking in trash from outsiders. Our soil consumption has greatly diminished; sometimes a large paper cover is used. (Although we don’t use them, there are systems that employ durable proteinaceous foam for overnight cover.) We are taking outside waste and turning a profit. Incredibly, the disposal rate was lowered for Denton residents. This is excellence in management. The question now is how long we should continue this practice? Two hundred feet seems excessive and we may ask, “Shall we sell our inheritance for a bowl of porridge?” We definitely should look at diversion of food waste and intelligent recycling.
5. Land Development and Green Spaces
City Council and the Planning-and-Zoning commission have recently seen some high-profile development projects approved that would severely impact or even destroy large swathes of important green corridors, further exacerbating species loss and the financial impacts thereof. Where do you stand on such developments and what steps could the city take to sustain and protect regional environmental assets?
I voted against Cole Hunter Ranch for fiscal and environmental reasons. I consider it scandalous that such reckless growth and corporate taxation is even legal. Council never should have allowed it. I would like to see our rural peripheries and mature urban forests taken off the table through proactive zoning and preserved through land acquisition for parks.
Not every environmental problem has a legislative solution. City ordinances are limited in scope by the state and enforcement can be difficult and costly. Legal strong-arming, even if by plebiscite, may get overruled by the state courts. (We could have gotten 80% of the goal of Frack Free Denton by unassailable local regulation). Obviously we want to retain these green corridors with more than enough space for trails or bike paths. The only practical way is with developer cooperation and their actual enthusiasm for this type of green space. What does it matter if our motives are not the same but our goals are similar enough?
Proper incentives are self-enforcing. Punitive measures create resistance and avoidance; that costs money to police. So let us identify the corridors, and acquire them if we must. However, with proper inducements developers will cooperate in corridor preservation because it provides high perceived value for a small cost. Sounds like profit to them, but it’s a more attractive and livable city for you and me. The major side benefit is economic vitality. Better employers will consider relocating here and other local business spring up to serve them and their employees. All because green natural space is more relaxing that concrete; so simple.
6. Community Engagement
How would you engage and support community members to make positive environmental changes in Denton?
I encourage individuals and families to do whatever they can to reuse, reduce, recycle, eliminate plastics, xeriscape, bring your own bags when shopping (buy reusables at the checkout, and choose paper for pickup/delivery) , replace your current gas car with a used electric car when the gas guzzler runs out (I did that and am loving the money I’m saving on gas, and how smoothly my electric car runs), and save up to get solar panels on your roof if you’re a homeowner (my family and I are saving up for that, and are hopeful the current federal tariffs and other cost obstacles will be removed to make it will even more affordable).
That said, I believe that the most important and effective changes will come not from individual human behavioral choices but from legislative changes at the local, state, and federal levels to prevent and hold corporate polluters accountable. On November 3rd, or better yet in early voting October 13th – 30th, vote for candidates up and down the ballot who don’t just talk the talk when it comes to caring about the environment, but who have a track record of actually walking the walk in putting public health and climate before corporate polluters.
We are doing a pretty good job in getting citizen input for the planning of our park systems and connected trails. However, I have noticed that we are spending too much time indoors after the covid protocols. Such fear must not live on in our hearts; indeed such a long sedentary pause will no doubt contribute to heart debility compared to an earlier baseline.
More of us should recognize the overall general improvement in wellbeing from regular walking. Most of us do walk, but not as regularly as we should. People are a bit competitive; we could use a simplified system of geo tagging to verify a daily walk and recognize those that meet cumulative milestones. When people are engaged they will volunteer for cleanups, trail improvements and so on. Council should encourage City Staff to be creative.
As a City: The adoption of I-SWMM protocols provides cleaner water discharge using bio filtration, especially for parking lot runoff. Green corridors are often created for this purpose, so incorporation of existing green areas is not so difficult. I think most of us would like to see a reduction of unneeded parking at the mall with the planting of trees in the “liberated” asphalt. It would be less of an imposition on the owners of dying retail spaces if volunteers lent a hand in some way. BTW: Parking lots need actual soil specs; most of the soil is the same as the rest of the parking lot, compacted with lime and inhospitable to plants roots. (There are slow motion videos of roots turning at the compacted layer) In the case of gas well re-fracking, we are encouraging new horizontal wells from central locations. This reduces the number of gas well sites.