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Environment & Science

‘Please hire a dedicated sustainability manager’: Letter campaign aims to pressure Allentown Council

File photo
Allentown City Council meets at City Hall.

  • A letter-writing campaign aims to pressure Allentown's officials to hire a sustainability manager
  • The role would oversee and address environmental justice issues
  • Officials said the position is included in the 2024 budget

ALLENTOWN, Pa. — A letter-writing campaign aims to pressure city officials to hire a sustainability manager to oversee and address environmental justice issues.
“A sustainability manager plays a necessary and vital role in connecting stakeholders and driving progress in government operations/facilities and prioritization, particularly with respect to environmental justice and equity,” said Maria C. Ocasio, Lehigh Valley field coordinator for Conservation Voters of PA, the group facilitating the campaign. “Ideally, this position would help to engage communities and motivate positive change throughout the city.

“ … The time to get this done is NOW, while there is significant federal and other funding for sustainability projects that could pay dividends in health and other benefits for years to come.”

Through the nonprofit engagement platform EveryAction, the campaign began on Sept. 9 and included a template letter aimed at city council members that participants could personalize. While the number of letters sent is unclear and there is not yet a salary recommendation for the role, Ocasio said hiring is an important step as the city doesn’t have the resources to complete this work with current staff.

Daryl L. Hendricks, the city council's president, did not return a request for comment.

The draft 2024 budget includes a sustainability coordinator who will have those responsibilities. Once the position is budgeted, it can be advertised for hire.
Genesis Ortega, Allentown spokesperson

“The draft 2024 budget includes a sustainability coordinator who will have those responsibilities,” said city spokesperson Genesis Ortega. “Once the position is budgeted, it can be advertised for hire.”

The city’s 2024 budget process began in late July. Under the city’s Home Rule Charter, the mayor must deliver a proposed budget to the City Council for review by Oct. 17; it must be adopted by Dec. 31.

During his campaign, Mayor Matt Tuerk’s “Sustainability Plan” included hiring a “Chief Sustainability Officer (CSO) with responsibility for plan management. The CSO will employ an interdisciplinary approach by engaging a broad range of city departments and external partners.”

‘A crucial link’

The letter, with the subject, “Please hire a dedicated sustainability manager,” includes several paragraphs of arguments to answer why the position is so sorely needed.

“This role would serve as a crucial link between stakeholders, facilitating the efficient utilization of federal, state, and other available funds to begin programs that would substantially lower energy costs for both the city and its residents,” according to the letter. “Moreover, this position would be instrumental in addressing pressing issues like lead contamination in homes and the formulation of an effective climate action plan.”

Currently, Allentown is the only major city in the Lehigh Valley with no Climate Action Plan in place. However, the city’s Environmental Advisory Council in July 2021 submitted to the council a climate action report.

The city’s EAC “has put forth recommendations to the city for implementing renewable energy and energy efficiency initiatives, at no financial burden to the city,” according to the letter. “However, the absence of a sustainability manager is blocking the progress of AEAC's proposals.”

Ocasio, who also serves as chair of the city’s EAC, said municipalities have benefited from having a designated sustainability official, and the position could pay for itself through energy efficiency measures, grants and other funding that the city is currently unable to devote adequate human resources to accomplish.

The sustainability manager would also develop clear goals and manage the implementation of sustainability efforts in support of Allentown’s 2030 strategic plan and create an annual sustainability report detailing progress to the public and promoting greater transparency in the city’s sustainability efforts, Ocasio said.