EPA encounters obstacle in relocating Las Vegas office

WASHINGTON — The Environmental Protection Agency has hit a snag in consolidating and relocating its research laboratories and offices in Las Vegas.

The House is declining to give the agency money to begin designing new quarters for the environmental sciences division, emergency preparedness units and administrative offices in the city.

The EPA had asked for $12 million toward a new complex estimated to cost about $120 million. But the House Appropriations Committee forming the agency’s spending bill for the upcoming fiscal year declined to go along.

Instead, the Republican-controlled panel in legislation it approved on Tuesday said the agency should consult an ongoing lab study before proposing “major changes to EPA’s laboratory footprint.” The committee did not respond to a request for more information on the decision.

The EPA wants to move about 580 employees from space it has leased on the University of Nevada, Las Vegas campus for more than 30 years, and from human resources, finance and civil rights offices it rents across Maryland Parkway at the La Plaza complex.

The agency’s National Center for Radiation Field Operations and its Environmental Response Team-West, an emergency response unit, also are based at La Plaza, according to an EPA directory.

The agency’s lease with UNLV, where it has occupied five buildings on campus, expires Sept. 30, 2015.

The EPA has not announced a new location, but UNLV officials say they have been talking with the agency about becoming an anchor tenant at the largely vacant UNLV Harry Reid Technology and Research Park on Sunset Road and Durango Boulevard.

The House action is not the last word. The EPA and UNLV reportedly have been working with the office of Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., who would have a hand in the Senate version of the EPA spending bill.

The UNLV research park was named after Reid, who helped obtain the 122-acre site for the university in 2005.

With an understanding that the EPA plans to relocate to the research park and remain linked to the university, UNLV officials are open to a short-term campus lease extension, according to Gerry Bomotti, senior vice president for finance and business.

“We have told them to the extent they are working to get a consolidated facility at the research park we would work with them,” Bomotti said. In the meantime, the EPA was expected to consolidate its space and return some of it to the school.

Contact Stephens Washington Bureau Chief Steve Tetreault at stetreault@stephensmedia.com or 202-783-1760. Find him on Twitter: @STetreaultDC.