The Lehigh Valley is fortunate to have many valuable natural resources, from scenic mountains and farmland views to pristine groundwater and large forests. These resources, referred to as the Valley’s “green infrastructure”, along with opportunities provided by growth in the region, are the foundation for a strong economy and high quality of life.
Woodlands cover about 23% of the Lehigh Valley, including 24,000 acres on the Kittatinny Ridge along the northern boundary of the region. That northern ridge is the premier raptor migration corridor in the northeastern United States and one of the leading such sites in the world. The Lehigh Valley has plentiful rainfall and abundant water resources to provide for residents, businesses and recreation. In a natural setting, about one-third of rainfall is available for future use as groundwater or streamflow, although development can alter that ratio. The Valley is home to more than 3,200 acres of wetlands (National Wetland Inventory), 1,000 miles of streams (National Hydrography Dataset) and 123 natural heritage areas (Pennsylvania Natural Heritage Program) containing rare plants, threatened and endangered species and significant natural communities. Natural landscapes provide many economic benefits from ecosystem functions, such as water quality, flood mitigation, wildlife habitat and pollination. For instance, the Lehigh Valley Return on Environment reports an estimated value of more than $50.6 million of flood mitigation is provided annually. Air quality is improved through the removal of 181,200 tons of carbon from the air annually by the regional tree cover. The estimated value of natural system services and air quality benefits provided annually is $400 million.
According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, for 650,000 years global atmospheric carbon dioxide had never been greater than 300 parts per million until 1950, and the levels continue to rise resulting in climate change. The region’s natural resources can provide an extra layer of community resiliency by mitigating the potential impacts and providing energy conservation benefits. The protection of these resources becomes even more imperative as the carbon dioxide level in the atmosphere continues to rise higher than ever before.
Electricity is a secondary energy source that is generated from the conversion of primary sources of energy, including fossil fuels (coal, natural gas and oil), nuclear power and renewable sources (wind, hydro, solar, geothermal). Currently, natural gas is the largest source (34%) of electricity generated in the U.S., followed by coal (30%) and nuclear power (20%). Renewable energy sources generate 15% of U.S. electricity, while petroleum generates only 1%. The percentage of natural gas and renewable energy sources used for electricity generation has been on the increase since 1990, while the percentage of coal saw a steep drop—from 52% to its current 30%.
The type of energy most Lehigh Valley residents use to heat their homes is shifting from fuel oil and kerosene to utility gas and electricity.