Lehigh Valley homes located within a quarter mile of natural lands are valued at $12,000 more than those that aren’t.
So said Becky Bradley, executive director of the Lehigh Valley Planning Commission, speaking to a group of more than 150 people at the Greater Lehigh Valley Chamber of Commerce’s Sustainability Summit at The Club at Twin Lakes in North Whitehall Township on Friday.
The increased value of homes shows that people are concerned about the climate and quality of life.
“Something that always stands out to us on the LVPC team is the fact that every single survey that we’ve done for the last several decades, the community has been prioritizing nature and natural resources in our natural environment,” Bradley said. “As high up (in the surveys) is our economy and jobs followed by another 90% to 95% of folks that are focusing on climate change and then the associated climate action as a priority.”
Bradley used the example to outline the plans the Planning Commission has and is developing to reduce carbon emissions.
Lehigh Valley, she said, emits 9.8 million metric tons of carbon dioxide, which is 3.7% of the state’s total gross emissions, she said.
The planning commission is working to reduce those emissions, not only to meet state and federal mandates, but to improve life in Lehigh Valley, Bradley said. Natural habitats help reduce those emissions and provide recreation.
The plan, FutureLV: The Regional Plan, which combines the state-mandated regional comprehensive plan with the federally mandated Long-Range Transportation Plan, provides a blueprint for managing future growth.
Bradley said the plan gives investment strategies to meet current and future needs for the transportation infrastructure, manage transportation-related emissions, improve the transportation infrastructure and create opportunities for non-automobile trips.
“We have $3.2 billion to invest,” she said. “We are better together. If we continue to work better, we can make Lehigh Valley a better place to live, work and invest.”
In outlining the return on the environment, Bradley showed a slide that outlined the results of investments so far.
That includes $2.5 million in annual biological services; $54 million in annual carbon and pollution control; $22.4 million in annual pollination value; $219.5 million contribution to wildlife and plan habitat; and $1.8 billion in real estate premium attached to open space.
In addition, there has been $.8 million in annual soil formation and retention; $50.6 million in annual flood mitigation; $795 million in recreation investment; $58.9 million in local and state contributions from recreational jobs; and 9,678 jobs generated from recreation.
Bradley shared that the greenhouse gas inventory, made by LVPC with the help of Moravian University and the Department of Environmental Protection, shows industrial electricity and natural gas contribute 34.5% of the total carbon dioxide emissions while transportation and mobile sources contribute the second largest at 26.6%.
Residential energy contributes 19.6% with commercial energy following closely at 14.2%, she said.
The Walk-Roll Transportation Action Plan is a big part of the overall plan to reduce emissions, she said. It is designed to enhance ecosystems and improve climate change.
The plan encourages walking, biking and public transportation to improve air quality and climate throughout the region, she said.
Bradley also said improvements to open land spaces with more planting of natural grasses and shrubs will help reduce carbon dioxide while “making Lehigh Valley a beautiful place.”
“$67 million was raised to reduce carbon just last week,” she said.
Some initiatives for “Carbon Farming”, she said, include greening of the transportation corridors, hazard mitigation and beautification, and permanent air and water quality monitoring.
“This is an opportunity to do a ton of carbon reduction work,” Bradley said. “Public right-of-ways are some of the most underutilized assets that exist out there. There are opportunities to plant native grasses along those that will reduce runoff and help preserve the plant infrastructures there that provide pollination and bird migratory pathways that are so critical to that key element of the system of bird migration in the nation. We can make our Lehigh Valley look better when you drive to it and through it.”
James Rouland, manager, Regional Policy, PPL Services Corporation, told the crowd to look for opportunities on ways to reduce energy use. He spoke about PPL programs that store excess energy created by companies using solar power and low-impact hydro power.
“We can use clean energy to power homes, businesses and electric and hydro vehicles,” he said. “The energy storage advantage is lithium batteries.”
Rouland said Pennsylvania alternative energy grew from 9.2% in 2010 to 18% last year.
PPL, he said, is working with customers to find the best alternatives, especially with those who have electric fleets.
“We are all on a new journey,” he said. “I implore you to connect with local organizations who have environmental plans.”
Rouland said the key to the transition to cleaner energy is participation and said the resources are at peoples’ fingertips.