Monday, September 25, 2006

EPA Shutters Its Libraries

Justice Brandeis once wrote that "sunshine is the best disinfectant." If so, EPA's move to close its agency libraries, a process it terms "deaccessioning," seems to suggest an unhealthy aversion to sunlight. Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility reports that EPA has already closed libraries or is closing libraries in Chicago, Dallas and Kansas City. Indeed, visitors to the Region 5 library are greeted with the message "The U.S. EPA Region 5 Library is permanently closed" and are advised to instead call the Environmental Hotline. On September 20, 2006 EPA published a Federal Register Notice announcing that as of October 1, its main library at its DC headquarters will be closed to the public and to agency staff. The notice opines that the public will access information through EPA websites instead. While the government has made great strides in providing internet access to government documents, the vast majority of EPA documents are not digitized and there seems to be no plan to make them available in the near future.

At least 10,000 EPA scientists, engineers, environmental protection specialists and support staff signed a letter to the Senate Appropriations Committee objecting to the closures on the grounds that they rely heavily on the EPA technical libraries to perform their jobs. The EPA employees expressed concern that the closures would impede the agency's daily enforcement capabilities and would also render EPA unprepared to respond to emergencies.

At a time when the rest of the world is moving towards recognizing a right of access to environmental information, this decision takes the United States in the opposite direction. Shuttering these libraries will not only hamper scientific research, but will also impede the public's ability to monitor EPA's enforcement and regulatory activities. Justice Brandeis would be ashamed.

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