Thursday, November 23, 2006

EPA Trashes Libraries of Documents

WASHINGTON, DC, November 22, 2006 (ENS) - The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is rapidly dispersing its library collections to preempt Congressional intervention, according to internal emails released Monday by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, PEER, a national association of employees in natural resources agencies.

Contrary to promises by EPA Deputy Administrator Marcus Peacock that all of the former library materials will be made available electronically as the agency closes libraries to save money, PEER says "vast troves of unique technical reports and analyses will remain indefinitely inaccessible."

Meanwhile, many materials formerly held by the Office of Prevention, Pollution and Toxic Substances Library, in EPA's Washington DC Headquarters, were directed to be thrown into trash bins, according to reports received by PEER. This month, EPA closed this library, its only specialized library for research on health effects and properties of toxic chemicals and pesticides, without notice to either the public or affected scientists.

"By its actions, it appears that the appointed management at EPA is determined to actually reduce the sum total of human knowledge," said PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch. "EPA is not an agency renowned for its speed, so its undue haste in dumping library holdings suggests a political agenda rather than anything resembling a rational information management plan."

In the case of the OPPTS Library, the collection is being offered to other EPA offices. What has not been immediately claimed is destined for the trash bin. PEER says the only "unique" documents that EPA is digitizing are those authored by EPA staff. Thousands of documents written or compiled by EPA contractors will remain boxed up and unavailable, either electronically or physically, as the material has not been catalogued. The EPA is spending more money closing the libraries than it asserted it would save, $2 million, from the closures.

"The dismantlement of EPA's library network has been directed from above without any assessment of the information needs of the agency, let alone outside researchers or the public," Ruch added, noting that the Senate will soon be taking up EPA's budget for the current fiscal year. "It is high time Congress weighs in before EPA completely destroys its library system."

Democrats Senator Barbara Boxer of California the incoming chair of the oversight committee for EPA, and Senator Frank Lautenberg of New Jersey are leading an effort to restore EPA's network of libraries during the current lame-duck session of Congress.

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