[permaculture] EPA Library Shutdown May Lead to Showdown - Yahoo! News
Lawrence F. London, Jr.
lfl at intrex.net
Wed Dec 20 10:15:36 EST 2006
EPA Library Shutdown May Lead to Showdown
By Bret Schulte Tue Dec 19, 12:44 PM ET
Government officials call it a long-overdue process to bring libraries into the 21st century. Critics say it's downright
sinister. The Environmental Protection Agency has marked several of its libraries for closure while limiting hours of
operation in many others across the country.
The decision, says EPA Deputy Administrator Marcus Peacock, is a cost-cutting measure that would bring the federal
environmental libraries--home to a researcher's dream of EPA regulations, science and engineering research, and
environmental law and records of investigations--up to modern standards by digitizing tens of thousands of documents and
streamlining the agency's library system.
"We think modernization is going to provide better access to a broader audience," Peacock says. The digitized records
would ultimately be available on the Web so that "whether you live next door to an EPA facility, or in China, you can
get access to all the information the EPA has regarding the environment," Peacock says.
But the American Library Association and a contingent of congressional Democrats argue that that's not exactly the case.
The EPA is only digitizing documents produced for or by the agency. The rest, because of copyright protections, cannot
be placed on the Web. Those documents would be available only through interlibrary loan, but with the number of
libraries shrinking and with the operating hours of surviving branches restricted, critics say the EPA's plan places
undue hardship on users, such as those who need timely access to information in lawsuits against potential illegal
Meanwhile, some material, such as damaged books, is slated for the recycling bin. For many folks, the EPA plan is just
another example of antiscience policies by the Bush administration.
"There are many who see this as one more move to restrict access to environmental information and to keep people who
care about the environment from getting the access they need," says one former EPA official.
Already, the EPA has closed the doors of libraries in Chicago, Dallas, Kansas City, and the Washington headquarters.
Hours have been reduced in Boston, New York, San Francisco, and Seattle. EPA officials say the closures are required by
the White House budget, but plans are proceeding before the incoming Democratic Congress has approved the budget,
raising partisan alarms among some members of Congress.
A letter to EPA Administrator Stephen Johnson signed by the incoming chairs of four powerful House committees?Bart
Gordon of the Science Committee, John Dingell of the Energy and Commerce Committee, Henry Waxman of the Government
Reform Committee, and James Oberstar of the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee--requested that "destruction or
disposition of all library holdings immediately ceased." Thirteen senators, meanwhile, sent a similar letter, setting
the stage for a brawl between branches of government over who can and cannot keep the doors open.
The response from Johnson only heightened the tension. The letter ignored the request, stating only that the library was
a valuable resource that needs to be modernized, says a congressional aide. Peacock told U.S. News that the EPA has not
halted its library closure plan, though it "rescheduled the recycling of the non-EPA materials."
That sets up the likelihood of a nasty confrontation. Congressional insiders say the EPA's actions could prompt
hearings, sparking plenty of fireworks if the EPA administrator, a Bush appointee, received a congressional subpoena.
Meanwhile, the EPA is under fire by scientists, watchdog groups, and the American Library Association, which has been a
leading critic of how the digitization process has developed. Leslie Burger, president of the association, objects to
the entire closure process but also faults the EPA for a haphazard approach to digitizing its material.
"When you have plans to digitize enormous amounts of content, you make some of it available for the interim time
period," she says. "We have no guarantees about when the information is going to be available and what we do in the
Other complaints include the loss of qualified librarians to help users navigate the often arcane world of environmental
regulations. The ALA is urging citizens to contact their legislators to put pressure on the EPA to cease the closures.
For its part, the EPA has met with ALA staffers to ease concerns, but to little avail.
When Congress convenes in January, expect this to be one issue where librarians encourage the public to talk. Loudly.
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