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November, 2006


Bush Is Dismantling The Core Of The Environmental Protection Agency
"Painted Lens: Closing of the EPA Libraries"
By Marie Seigenthaler

As of October 1st of this year, the EPA library system began the first phase of what is described as a complete digital and physical overhaul. Libraries have been torn apart and ransacked, documents literally cast into storage to later be sorted and organized. In fact, this plan will disseminate the libraries and scatter research and resource materials into random storage in an unindexed state, making access and retrieval an impossibility.
The EPA has grandiose intentions to do away with the archaic card catalogue system altogether and digitalize the entire library system. The objective of this project would be that the library's complete and unabridged stock will be available online for use of the public, for EPA scientists and researchers as well as common people.

There is only one problem with this: the EPA library system has approximately $500,000 to enact this plan.

The EPA has ten regional offices scattered throughout the United States, plus one headquarters library in Washington, DC The plenary stock consists of well over 500,000 books and reports, 3,500 journals, 25,000 maps, and some 3.6 million microfilms. The system consists of 27 libraries, two research centers, and twelve laboratories scattered around the country within the ten office districts. EPA librarians used these resources to manage over 134,000 research cases in 2005 alone. In the same year they catalogued 50,000 unique documents.

Fiscal Year 2007, which began on October 1st, gave dramatic budget cuts to not merely the libraries but the entire EPA. The EPA's overall budget has dropped 4.1 % to $7.3 billion. Libraries were among the hardest hit; their 80% budget cut leaving a scant $500,000 to cover their expenses. As a result, they are being forced to lay off staff, cut back hours, and close facilities.

Of course, the time that these drops were proposed coincided nicely with President Bush's calling earlier this year on the EPA to become more assertive in research and development. Despite protests from over ten thousand EPA scientists, this under funded overhaul is indeed occurring. Four libraries are closing their doors, and two more are running at half-staff for far less hours. Documents are being thrown into storage containers called repositories to "deaccessitate" - a term invented to describe their state wherein any and all access is denied, as the name implies.

For scientists both of the EPA and general public, including university students, the lack of libraries and denied access to scientific studies pose a dire problem. The deficit of librarians means that the task now falls to the individuals who stubbornly continue to depend on the libraries. Without libraries, scientists have one less place to deposit their newly-found information.

Researchers and scientists alike will not know what has been done, what questions were left open, and what needs to be done. This destruction of the library system and closing access to research materials will also make it harder to pass laws to protect the environment.

As Democrat representatives Bart Gordon (Science Committee), Henry Waxman (Government Reform Committee), and John Dingell (Energy and Commerce Committee) expressed, "inadequate planning and lack of funding for digitizing documents, access to many documents will be temporarily or permanently lost." This loss would deduct from our country's known intelligence.

EPA unions, seeing through the government's transparent conspiracy, addressed a letter of protest to Congress on behalf of the 10,000 EPA staff -which consists of scientists, engineers, environmental protection specialists, and other support. Their letter effectively outlined all of the cons of their intentions and clarified theories. The letter points out the lack of funds, the lack of planning, and the lack of consideration for the funds and time that the libraries effectively save:

"Based on our assessment of EPA's long-range library plan, we have concluded that our Agency intends to stop providing any EPA library services to the public. Our management has indicated that the inquiring public will get their information either from EPA hotlines or program staff, or from our website. They also assert that all EPA documents will be available 'on-line,' for easy retrieval. But this proposed approach does not consider, for instance, how university, school, and municipal libraries will borrow paper copies of EPA's documents through the inter-library loan process. The approach would also deprive working-class people of a user-friendly, well-staffed EPA library system that can provide them with environmental and public health information; and we consider this to be an 'environmental justice' issue."

In brief, the EPA libraries, once a concrete series of establishments founded to cement the scientific community together and allow the free trade of information, are pummeling towards nothing.

What's next? Fiscal Year 2008 already indicates a high probability of EPA laboratories being closed. The EPA has never been a favored child of this administration, and, like many other Discretionary Domestic Programs, has faced multiple cuts in budget and support since the beginning of the Bush Administration. What more will the EPA, as well as scientists and the environment, face before the tide turns? What is going to be done with the EPA and its scientists, most of whom are baby boomers approaching retirement?

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