A Long Way to the Courthouse: the Region 7 EPA Headquarter Controversy

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Yesterday, the City of Kansas and the County of Wyndotte sued the General Services Administration for moving the EPA Region 7 headquarters from an older LEED building in the Kansas City central business district to a former Applebee’s headquarters in Lenexa, Kansas. The complaint is available here.

This is a fascinating suit in that it highlights the paradox of a green building on an unsustainable site. Lenexa can only be described as a typical midwestern sprawling suburb, and the proposed new EPA headquarters is in an office park.  A Google earth map of Lenexa is available here and the proposed building is available here

The lawsuit alleges that the GSA violated two executive orders mandating that Federal facilities be sustainable and located in urban cores.

EO 12,072 requires:

Federal facilities and Federal use of space in urban areas shall serve to strengthen the Nation’s cities and to make them attractive places to live and work” and mandates that such Federal space “shall conserve existing urban resources and encourage the development and redevelopment of cities.

and Executive Order 13,514 which mandates, among other things, that

the head of each Federal agency to “advance regional and local integrated planning by . . . (iii) ensuring that planning for new Federal facilities or new leases includes consideration of sites that are pedestrian friendly, near existing employment centers, and accessible to public transit, and emphasizes existing central cities. . . ."

The GSA defends its decision to move from a green building in the central business district to a suburban office park on two grounds–it is cheap and it is green: 

GSA spokeswoman Angela Brees said she could not comment on the lawsuit, but reasserted the agency’s claim that the Lenexa building was the cheapest available, even when considering the cost of moving to a new office. [The building] also scored highest on technical criteria that include sustainability and design, she said. The owners of the building, which has been given a Silver rating by the U.S. Green Building Council’s Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design program, have vowed to upgrade it to meet LEED Gold standards and get a Platinum rating for operations and maintenance by the time employees arrive.

Putting aside the environmental implications, I would argue (and the Complaint alludes to it as well) that the Lenaxa decision does not hold up on a purely economic basis, let alone an environmental one.   The new site is located outside of the central business district, and has little access to transit.  This means that every time an EPA employee has to go to a  meeting, the courthouse and to other businesses in the course of their official duties, they must do so by car.  

Currently, the Federal government reimburses private vehicle travel at $.51 per mile.  Previously, the distance from the EPA headquarters to the Kansas City Federal Courthouse was .6 miles.  The distance from the Lenaxa facilitiy to the Federal courthouse is 21 miles.

According to the New York Times, the Applebee’s HQ rent is more than the current rent.  On top of that, based on the above calculation, the taxpayer will be paying a $20 surcharge for every trip of an EPA Region 7 lawyer, paralegal, witness to the courthouse.  Of course, it will also mean the same $20 surcharge for any other trip of any Region 7 employee travelling to the Kansas City CBD on official business. 

Utilmately, it appears that this will not be a green decision, in either sense of the word.

 

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About Author

Walter’s contributions to CleanTechies over the past 4 years have been instrumental in growing the publications social media channels via his ongoing editorial and data driven strategies. He is the founder and managing director of Sunflower Tax, a renewable energy tax and finance consultancy based in San Diego, California. Active in the San Diego clean technology community, participating in events sponsored by CleanTech San Diego, EcoTopics, and Cleantech Open San Diego, Walter has also been a presenter at numerous California Center for Sustainability (CCSE) programs. He currently serves as an adjunct professor at the University of San Diego School of Law where he teaches a course on energy taxation and policy.

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