EPA announces plan to abandon Kansas City – at the cost of the city and taxpayers

Crossposted from the Huffington Post.

To avoid small costs, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) will be creating big costs for everyone, including the federal government.

The EPA announced on Monday that it plans to move the Agency’s Region 7 headquarters, currently located in downtown Kansas City, Kansas, to Lenexa, a site nearly 20 miles outside of downtown. The EPA’s decision violates Executive Order 13514, which requires federal agencies to locate their offices in downtown areas and town centers whenever possible. Not following the Executive Order will cost a lot of money for everyone — including Kansas City and its businesses, EPA employees and U.S. taxpayers too.

As one of Kansas City’s major employers, EPA’s decision hurts the city, which has made great strides in the last decade to revitalize its downtown. “The EPA regional headquarters has been instrumental in our urban revitalization efforts,” Mayor Joe Reardon said in a statement on Monday, and the value of such an employer’s presence in a city’s revitalization efforts goes beyond their immediate impact. The EPA headquarters helped anchor renewed economic development in an area that had seen decades of decline, and the Agency’s decision undermines efforts to build a stronger economy in Kansas City.

The relocation will also mean increased traffic on I-35 and the higher maintenance costs associated with additional cars on the road. The Town of Lenexa projects I-35 to capacity by 2020, just 7 years into GSA’s 20-year lease. The EPA’s move will only hasten the arrival of that saturation point, creating costly delays or requiring even more (federal) money to improve conditions.

This decision will hurt the employees working at EPA. Many workers will now have longer commutes that must be done by car, and as gas prices reach all time highs this fact is an enormous financial burden. For EPA workers who will drive, say, 10 additional miles each way, the new location will mean an additional $765 dollars in gas each year and higher maintenance costs as well. Taken over the 600 EPA employees that could amount to $9 million for the life of the 20-year lease — millions of dollars that could have stayed in Kansas City’s economy.

But most ironically this hurts the federal budget and taxpayers, the very entities this endeavor was meant to help. The federal government has made significant investments in helping Kansas City region grow in ways that are more economically resilient: in fiscal year 2010, the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development alone invested $23 million dollars in the Kansas City metro area to support housing and urban development. These are federal investments that are meant to help local economies stay strong and competitive in a changing 21st century marketplace, but by moving its headquarters out of downtown Kansas City the EPA is undermining these investments. Because of EPA’s move, another federal agency’s job just got harder. Such decisions are not in the best interest of taxpayers or the government, and the EPA’s potential savings on rent are dwarfed by the economic growth possible when businesses and development decisions are made strategically.

I applaud the corporations and businesses of downtown Kansas City that continue to support the growing economy there, and sincerely hope that the Environmental Protection Agency will reconsider its decision to relocate to Lenexa.