Introduction

Bob Rodale Cycling + Fitness Park

The Lehigh Valley Planning Commission (LVPC) has a long history of planning for and promoting the protection of the natural environment. The LVPC’s sister organization, the Lehigh Valley Transportation Study (LVTS), for decades has focused on reducing transportation-related emissions, protecting endangered species, floodplains and other environmental assets, as a means to improving safety. As the region grows, striking a balance of development while protecting the environment becomes increasingly critical to maintaining the region’s high quality of life. Through numerous studies, plans and model regulations, the LVPC supports and reinforces the importance of environmental and climate resiliency throughout Lehigh and Northampton counties.

Climate change presents an unprecedented challenge to global environments, including posing a serious threat to the Lehigh Valley. Over the last decade, the region has experienced more intense storms, higher rainfall amounts, increased flooding, less snow and rising temperatures. We can expect these trends to continue with an increase in severity and frequency. Climate change mitigation and adaptation to these impacts will affect nearly every aspect of the Lehigh Valley’s economy, health and natural environment.

Climate change planning is critical for Lehigh and Northampton counties and each of the 62 local municipalities. Initial climate action planning efforts are underway for Allentown, Bethlehem and Easton, which represent a significant portion of the existing urban environment and “carbon footprint” associated with buildings and public infrastructure. Gaining a complete understanding of each community’s impact on climate change is a significant technical and financial undertaking. Greenhouse gas inventories, or GHG’s, identify emissions that amplify the “greenhouse effect” in the atmosphere to trigger global warming. These emissions are associated with the burning of fossil fuels (oil, natural gas and coal) for heating, transportation, manufacturing and electricity generation, among other uses. A complete greenhouse gas inventory needs to identify the emissions under the control of the local government (heating and lighting buildings, fleet vehicles, providing utilities and municipal services), the purchase of electricity, steam, heat or cooling by municipalities and from emissions not directly under government control, such as employee commuting. Once greenhouse gas emissions are defined, a climate action plan defines the specific actions the local government can take to mitigate the emissions. Many local governments may not possess the technical or financial means to accomplish a greenhouse gas inventory or climate action plan. This is where climate action planning at the county and Lehigh Valley scale can benefit each local government within the region. A first step in the process is to establish a regional foundation in climate action planning that already exists through the various plans adopted by the LVPC, LVTS and Lehigh and Northampton counties.

The LVPC’s existing plans explicitly address climate change through policies and actions. More broadly, however, the LVPC and LVTS plans promote principles of smart growth, economic savings, natural resource protection, green infrastructure and sustainability, among others, that further reinforce climate change mitigation and adaptation.

In fact, the counties, along with the LVPC and LVTS, took a leadership role in preparing for climate change in 2014 when, using a U.S. Housing and Urban Development Grant, participated with a consortium of 16 government, quasi-government and non-profit organizations from around the region to set policy needed to build sustainable communities. The Policies and Actions in the Climate + Energy Element would become the climate change foundation for FutureLV: The Regional Plan, the Lehigh and Northampton counties’ Livable Landscapes plans and the Walk/Roll LV Active Transportation plan to follow. The American Planning Association (APA) Policy Guide on Planning & Climate Change was extensively used to inform LVPC and LVTS policy identified within the Climate + Energy Element. To more broadly evaluate the respective plans for climate action, we’ve gone back to the APA guide to fully extract the direct climate implications of LVPC, LVTS and county policy expressed in the four documents adopted after the Climate + Energy Element set the standard.

Climate action is a continuous thread through foundational plans of the LVPC, LVTS and Lehigh and Northampton counties. The plans include:

Climate + Energy Element

The LVPC’s Climate + Energy Element (2014) provides an overview of climate change and energy use and projects their impacts on Pennsylvania’s water resources, aquatic ecosystems, forests, agriculture, human health and the economy. Climate change can have far-reaching effects, both positive and negative, on plant and animal ecosystems, biodiversity and various aspects of society, including human health, where people can live, the types of crops that can be grown and the economy. Within this element, the American Planning Association (APA) Policy Guide on Planning and Climate Change was utilized in the development of goals, policies and actions that can be effective in helping the region mitigate and adapt to climate change. The 10 overarching Climate + Energy Element goals that served as the foundation for the four future plans are:

• Protect, conserve and enhance natural ecosystems to provide long-term resilience to climate change.

• Protect public infrastructure from potentially harmful impacts associated with climate change.

• Protect residents, property and critical facilities from natural hazards as evolving over time due to climate change.

• Create a land use pattern that helps to mitigate climate change impacts through a compact urban development area, mixed land uses, higher densities in urban areas and through preserving land for agricultural and environmental purposes.

• Provide building and site design practices that help to mitigate climate change impacts.

• Reduce Lehigh Valley greenhouse gas emissions from residents, government and businesses.

• Promote energy efficiency and natural resource conservation within existing and new buildings and land development.

• Encourage alternatives to automobile use, both motorized and non-motorized.

• Support the diversification of energy sources.

• Advocate increased energy conservation and efficiency awareness.

FutureLV: The Regional Plan

Combining the state-mandated regional comprehensive plan with the federal-mandated Long-Range Transportation Plan, sets the vision and direction to carry the Lehigh Valley to 2045 and beyond. This plan provides a blueprint for managing future growth, making the most of our assets, and promoting a region where everyone has access to health, opportunity and a livable neighborhood. It also represents the investment strategy for our transportation infrastructure to meet current and future needs, manage transportation-related emissions, improve transportation infrastructure resiliency and create options for non-automobile trips.

Walk/RollLV: Active Transportation Plan

Also works in partnership within the broader structure of the Long Range Transportation Plan in coordinating public transit, trail, sidewalk, bikeway and roadway systems to create a seamless regional transportation network that is safe and convenient. This plan promotes a multimodal transportation network that helps to achieve the region’s health, safety, mobility, air quality, quality of life, recreation, tourism and environmental goals.

Livable Landscapes – A Park, Recreation, Open Space, Agricultural, and Historic Lands Plan for Lehigh County and Livable Landscapes – An Open Space Plan for Northampton County

Guides the conservation, restoration and enhancements of the counties’ open space, cultural and natural resources.

Each of these plans contain a framework which broadly builds climate action throughout their many Goals, Policies and Actions. While it is not always explicitly defined as related to climate action, many of the plan’s outcomes and overarching goals encourage climate mitigation and adaptation techniques throughout the region. To identify the full breadth of climate policy and action incorporated within these plans, each of them were analyzed for their relationship to the recommended climate strategies in the American Planning Association’s (APA) Policy Guide on Planning & Climate Change. The APA Climate policies are organized into sectors that include local roles, land use, transportation, energy, green development, natural resources, economic development, hazards management, public health and public infrastructure. Under each of the plan’s broadly defined goals, 86% of FutureLV: The Regional Plan, 74% of Lehigh County’s Livable Landscapes Plan, 83% of Northampton County’s Livable Landscapes Plan and 100% of Walk/RollLV is associated with an APA Climate Change Policy. In total, 525 Goals, Policies, Actions and Strategies from the four different plans relate to climate action.

525

Goals, Policies, Actions + Strategies from the four plans relate to climate action

Percentage of plan associated to an American Planning Association Climate Change Policy

83%

100%

74%

86%

The APA policies most represented in the combined analysis of the four plans were natural asset protection, green infrastructure, a compact development form, agricultural land uses and practices, and local street network and design. These are all foundation concepts of Climate Action. The most represented APA policies in the four plans combined are shown in the included figure as the largest phrases in the word cloud below. The APA Climate Change Policies that associated with a Goal, Policy or Action from the plans are displayed, with the size of the phrase depicting its relative number of occurrences.

The results of each individual plan’s climate analysis produced a distinct set of APA policies that were the most represented within each plan. In reality, all of the Lehigh Valley plans had elements of virtually all of the APA Policies, but to better quantify the climate action content in the regional plans, we chose to focus on the top five APA Policies represented by the Goals, Policies or Actions covered in each of these four plans. Collectively across the four plans, a total of 11 APA Policies were among the top five as associated to the Goals, Policies or Actions of the plans. We’ve listed those below, along with the Lehigh Valley plans in which those policies served as an underpinning foundation for the plan. As the regional plan that sets the vision and direction for the Lehigh Valley through 2045 and beyond, FutureLV is represented within every APA climate policy listed.

Climate Action Policy Themes