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Chester County Press

Planning Commission provides overview of county's climate action plan

03/09/2021 03:57PM ● By Richard Gaw

By Richard L. Gaw

Staff Writer

The Chester County Planning Commission, in partnership with the county’s Environmental and Energy Advisory Board (EEAB) and other partners, unveiled the county’s extensive and long-term environmental goals at an online meeting held on March 4.

Taking its environmental brush strokes from its 2018 Landscapes 3 comprehensive plan, the county released its 76-page Climate Action Plan on Jan. 27, a document that provides a ten-year framework for the development and implementation of actions to reduce the county’s contribution to global climate change, improve the health and well-being of the community by reducing greenhouse emissions through government leadership and collaboration, mitigating impacts of climate change through resiliency and planning, and transitioning to clean and sustainable energy generation.

The goal of the Climate Action Plan, which is being considered for adoption by the Chester County Commissioners, is to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in Chester County by 80 percent by 2050, said Carol Stauffer, the assistant director for the Planning Commission.

 “The plan has six goals -- to preserve, protect, appreciate, live, prosper and connect,” said Brian O’Leary, executive director of the Planning Commission. “The Climate Action Plan primarily falls under the ‘protect’ area, but it also falls within the context of the ‘connect’ goal -- having the right connections in order to have a more resilient and clean energy network.”

Plan focuses on county’s industries

In her presentation, Stauffer gave an overview of how several industries throughout the county will be enlisted to achieve the goal in the coming decade.

In the area of “Buildings and Energy,” the county will explore opportunities to increase energy management and energy efficiency capabilities at its facilities and operations; incorporate sustainable design into future buildings; and transition to renewable energy. As part of the implementation, the plan will also engage the community to promote sustainable energy, energy efficiency and communications between agencies and partners.

The amount of greenhouse gas emissions coming from this category represents 62 percent of gas emissions from the county, Stauffer said, with one-third is coming from residential homes and two-thirds are coming from our commercial and industrial structures.

In its “Waste Management” category, the county will aspire to increase its waste diversion operations; increase waste county diversion; and initiate other best practices through partnerships and collaborations.

In the area of “Transportation and Land Use,” the use of cars, trucks, agricultural machinery and other forms of travel account for 27 percent of greenhouse gas emissions in the county. In an effort to bring that percentage down, the county wants to reduce the number of commuter miles driven by county government employees; optimize public transportation; encourage low- or no-carbon travel; and encourage a proper balance of smart growth and land preservation.

Stauffer said that one of the objectives of the plan is to expand the idea of encouraging its employees to work from home.

“Until about a year ago this month, we were not working remotely, and then suddenly most of us did, so we found out very quickly that this is an option,” she said. “Once the pandemic is past us and we can start coming back to the office, we hope that we can still have a policy and an opportunity for people to work remotely because it cuts down on transportation and emissions.”

In the category of “Agriculture, Food, and Forestry,” the plan will include steps to continue managing its open spaces properly, as well as establish a sustainable land management plan to grow and preserve open spaces, explore “green” infrastructure and increase forestation.

The plan will also encourage the community to support local food production and the local agricultural industry.

‘No longer a future hazard but a current danger’

If the Planning Commission will be the general overseer of the county’s Climate Action Plan, then the 21-member EEAB will serve as its key navigating force. Appointed by the Chester County Commissioners in 2019, they provide both reviews and recommendations to the Commissioners and county departments which include best environmental and energy practices in the areas of buildings, facilities and operations; fuels, vehicles and transportation; food; responsible purchasing; housing; energy sources; air quality; storm water management; natural resource protection; and climate change.  

“[Over the last year], we’ve all taken actions to protect one another’s health, and this plan is another one of those actions, because climate change will certainly be another impact on our health, not just in the future, but even today,” said Jess Cadorette, the advisory board’s chairperson. “It’s no longer a future hazard, but a current danger, so it was appropriate for this to be the first task of the county’s advisory board.”

Commissioner Chairperson Marian Moskowitz said the Climate Action Plan is integral for the health and welfare of the county’s 525,000 residents and 15,000 businesses.

“Chester County has a long standing tradition of resource protection and maintaining the outstanding quality of life that is so valued by our county’s residents,” she said. “This tradition is also true of our municipal partners, who work hard every day to protect our community assets that are so valued by our residents and our businesses.

“As part of that tradition, we also recognize the importance of adjusting the county’s carbon footprint and maintaining a sustainable future for generations to come. Reducing greenhouse emissions through government leadership is the first step in making a change to improving the health and well-being of our community.”

“This is a massive issue for our environment, and you need to have coordinated action, and you need to set goals, priorities and metrics,” said EEAB Vice Chairman Paul Spiegel. “This plan helps do that and gets us on the road to setting some priorities and timeframes on when we are going to complete different elements of it. As we follow through with some of those elements, things are going to change over the years that will require adjustments. The advisory board will be there, working with the county, through that whole period.

“We realize that we have aggressive goals here, but we have a lot of years to complete them, but we need to start now,” Spiegel added. “Having this plan will give us this kick-off point and foundation so that we can start now.

“Business as usual will not get us to these goals. We are going to have to change some things that we do, and we’re going to have to invest time and effort and money, as well.”

To read more about the Climate Action Plan for Chester County, visit the Chester County Planning Commission website at Public feedback to the plan will be accepted through March 31.

To contact Staff Writer Richard L. Gaw, email [email protected].