January 8, 2008 The Pump Handle 1Comment

Remember how EPA library closures and record purges were threatening public access to important environmental information? Now Congress is requiring the agency to restore library services, reports Katherine Boyle of Greenwire:

U.S. EPA must craft plans to reopen regional libraries shuttered from a Bush administration cost-cutting effort under a provision in the agency’s fiscal 2008 budget.

Congress allocated nearly $3 million for restoring library services and requires the agency to report its progress to lawmakers within three months.

At issue are EPA libraries that were closed in Chicago, Dallas, Kansas City and Washington and those in Boston, New York, San Francisco and Seattle whose staffing and operating hours were trimmed.

Why are these libraries so important? Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility explains:

These libraries and their staff provide essential services to EPA staff and to the general public, such as finding the most current information on health risks of chemical substances, providing documentation in enforcement cases against corporate polluters, and helping to prepare scientific support for new regulations.

Shuttering the EPA libraries means that:
• Tens of thousands of unique holdings will be boxed up and inaccessible for an unknown period;
• Public access to EPA holdings will cease; and
• EPA scientists, enforcement agents and other specialists will have a much harder time doing their jobs. See EPA scientists’ letter of protest to Congress.

Theoretically, the EPA was going put more information online as it reduced library access, thus saving money while access to environmental information for the public and EPA staff. According PEER’s 12/7/06 press release, the agency did just the opposite:

In defiance of Congressional requests to immediately halt closures of library collections, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is purging records from its library websites, making them unavailable to both agency scientists and outside researchers, according to documents released today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). At the same time, EPA is taking steps to prevent the re-opening of its shuttered libraries, including the hurried auctioning off of expensive bookcases, cabinets, microfiche readers and other equipment for less than a penny on the dollar. …

Last month without notice to its scientists or the public, EPA abruptly closed the [Office of Prevention, Pollution and Toxic Substances] Library, the agency’s only specialized research repository on health effects and properties of toxic chemicals and pesticides. The web purge follows reports that library staffers were ordered to destroy its holdings by throwing collections into recycling bins. …

Meanwhile, in what appears to be an effort to limit Congressional options, EPA is taking steps to prevent the re-opening of the several libraries that it has already completely shuttered. In its Chicago office, which formerly hosted one of the largest regional libraries, EPA ordered that all furniture and furnishings (down to the staplers and pencil sharpeners) be sold immediately. Despite an acquisition cost of $40,000 for the furniture and equipment, a woman bought the entire lot for $350. The buyer also estimates that she will re-sell the merchandise for $80,000.

If library closures are proceeding irresponsibly, it’s good to have a Congress that will halt the process.

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