Up to a million dollars in federal funding will be coming to the Lehigh Valley to help develop a plan to fight climate change.
The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection recently announced the grant awards, which are part of the federal Climate Pollution Reduction Grants program.
The Lehigh Valley Planning Commission, along with the Delaware Valley Regional Planning Commission and the Southwestern Pennsylvania Commission, will each receive grants of up to $1 million to help develop climate action plans.
DEP Acting Secretary Rich Negrin called climate change an “existential threat” to safety, security and quality of life in Pennsylvania, and he said tackling the issue must involve cooperation from all levels of government.
“All climate change is local,” Negrin said, “and it’s here right now. It’s here today.”
Negrin spoke about the ongoing impacts of the climate crisis, from flooding and tornadoes to wildfires, which he said have been exacerbated by recent chemical releases and spills. He said the crisis will disproportionately affect the state’s most vulnerable populations first, and that these events are costly.
“According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, extreme weather and climate disasters cost the United States approximately $1.65 billion just last year,” he explained.
To take a step in tackling the crisis, Negrin said the state recently opted into the Climate Pollution Reduction Grants program, which is administered by the Environmental Protection Agency.
He said Pennsylvania is posed to receive $3 million, made available through the federal Inflation Reduction Act.
Negrin noted that the three planning organizations also applied to the program, adding up to $3 million more on top of the state’s money. And, he said the program makes state and local entities eligible for other grants from a major funding pool.
“Through this investment, and this is a significant part, Pennsylvania will be creating a priority climate action plan that will make us eligible to apply for a pool of approximately $4.6 billion in funding that is meant to implement projects and activities that we will outline in the priority climate action plan,” Negin said.
“I’m going to say that again, because I don’t get to say that number so often, $4.6 billion that can be utilized and brought back here to Pennsylvania to develop and fight climate change.”
Becky Bradley, Executive Director of the Lehigh Valley Planning Commission, said the LVPC has been working for over 60 years to improve air quality, mitigate hazards associated with weather events, and plan for “optimal environmental management and protection.”
“Due to the prioritization of air, water, and land protection by our counties, Lehigh and Northampton, the state and now our federal partners, these new opportunities that have presented themselves are going to help us advance some of the critical things that we need to do,” Bradley said.
She said the planning commission has been conducting public opinion polls for decades, many of which are returning the same feedback.
“And literally for the past 40 years, all of those public opinion polls have prioritized the environment as well as jobs and the economy in the Lehigh Valley.”
Bradley said the Valley has the fastest growing manufacturing economy in the United States, adding more than 22 million square feet of industrial space in less than six years.
However, she said the effects of this booming industrial economy must be balanced with the “public directive” to protect air, water, and land.
“That means our 16 watersheds, that means our vulnerable populations, and this provides us a new opportunity to do that,” she said.
Bradley said the additional federal funding will allow for the creation of new stormwater management ordinances for all 62 municipalities in the Lehigh Valley, providing a regionwide green infrastructure program.
The money will also be used to support regional electric and alternative fuel strategies, smart transportation corridors, permanent air quality monitors, improving walking, biking, and ADA accessibility, and increased investment in LANTA – the local transit authority – to deploy a bus rapid transit system.
Bradley concluded by thanking federal agencies and officials, “for supporting this effort and allowing our region in the Lehigh Valley to actually achieve some of the things that we could only have dreamed of, and balance again jobs, the economy, and the environment for everyone.”
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