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Kansas City wants big federal money for sustainability projects, but it faces tough competition

A view of Kansas City's skyline
Brad Austin
A view of Kansas City's skyline

In Kansas City, the federal sustainability funds could help boost composting efforts, add bike trails, plant more trees, expand electric vehicle charging, and tackle energy efficiency projects.

Kansas City is dreaming big with visions of massive federal support for making the city greener than it’s been since wagon trains rumbled through these parts.

Last month, area governments submitted a request for nearly $200 million in sustainability funds with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

Officials said they knew the effort would be epic in scale. The application included everything from bike trails to Civil War era settlements, subsidized e-bike sales, massive tree plantings and solar panels atop inner-city libraries.

Now, after grant requests from across America have landed at the EPA, it turns out the competition for the funds will be stiff.

Zealan Hoover, senior adviser to EPA Administrator Michael Regan, last week said, “We received $30 billion in proposals.”

That figure swamps the $4.6 billion the EPA will dole out to be spent over five years by cities, states and tribes on a wide variety of programs designed to cut carbon dioxide emissions and slow climate change and its devastating consequences.

The program is a result of the Inflation Reduction Act, which along with the Bipartisan Infrastructure Act of the Biden administration, was approved by Congress to help counter the lingering drag on our economy from the COVID pandemic and boost employment.

In an interview, Hoover told the U.S. Department of Energy’s Grid Talk podcast: “We will be funding the best of the best. It is unlikely everyone will be selected.”

Local government representatives who worked on the Kansas City area submission remain upbeat as they await EPA action promised in July.

Tom Jacobs, the chief resiliency officer at the Mid-America Regional Council (MARC), said, “If EPA elected to make a partial award, we would be thrilled to receive any resources they though appropriate.”

Jacobs and his team spent months working with 119 cities in nine counties in Missouri and Kansas represented by MARC. Collectively, they came up with $197,823,216 of funding requests for 40 projects. The projects were an outgrowth of a Priority Climate Action Plan, which can be viewed at kcmetroclimateplan.org.

The plan’s principal goals are to leverage public leadership, achieve neighborhood resilience and critical infrastructure resilience.

“We believe we have $200 million in outstanding projects,” Jacobs said.

He said he had no way of knowing if the fierce competition for funding from around the nation means Kansas City can expect to receive all its requested funding, partial funding or no funding.

“I don’t have any idea how they are going to implement it,” Jacobs said. But according to grant criteria, “they said they would not evaluate line item by line item but by a whole body of work.”

The grant requests from the Kansas City region submitted to EPA were an outgrowth of “our exhaustive community conversation,” he said.

Any revisions of plans prompted by EPA’s decisions would result in an effort to fine-tune the area’s requests.

“I would go back to the community to see what game plan they would like,” he said. “We laid out a program of interconnected parts so each investment would be supportive of other investments. We would apply that philosophy to any revisions we make.”

“I want to be able to tell a story of how one investment connects to the next to make visible change in the community,” Jacobs said.

Realistic expectations

Hoover of EPA said that the federal government expects just that.

“Even if every applicant is not selected the benefits will be felt across the country,” he told Grid Talk. “I’m really confident that there are going to be fantastic climate pollution reduction grants … all across the country."

“We’ve received over $30 billion dollars in project proposals so we will be funding the best of the best,” he continued. “We’re seeing really innovative proposals that are tailored to the needs of local communities and states."

In Kansas City, that could be boosts to commercial food waste composting; planting of indigenous plants, shrubs and trees to enhance area bird and wildlife; construction of electric vehicle charging in areas of the city lacking such critical 21st century energy infrastructure; and tons of caulking and energy efficiency upgrades of the oldest, leakiest housing stock in the area.

Such efforts, collectively, are expected to slash greenhouse gas emissions by 5.45 million tons over 25 years.

All of it will fall under the umbrella descriptor: “Kansas City – Anchoring Climate Transformation.”

This story was originally published by Flatland, a fellow member of the KC Media Collective.

Martin Rosenberg is an energy journalist based in Kansas City and hosts the “Grid Talk” podcast on the future of electricity.
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