EPA to close library

Proposed cuts in the fiscal 2007 budget have prompted Environmental Protection Agency officials to shutter the agency’s Midwest Regional Library in anticipation of congressional approval of the budget.

According to an internal e-mail released by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER), the EPA is preparing to close the Chicago library to preempt the passage of President Bush’s proposed 80 percent funding cut to the EPA library network. The network provides access to tens of thousands of electronic and paper documents that are unavailable elsewhere.

The agency plans to eliminate many library buildings and reference assistants to cut $2 million from the current $2.5 million library budget, said EPA officials, who are developing a cost-savings plan. The agency will digitize some collections and make them available online, while other works will be available via interlibrary loans from operational EPA libraries.

In a March 13 memo to employees, EPA Midwestern Regional Administrator Thomas Skinner wrote, “The library will close in the near future…to allow time for an orderly relocation of our library collection.” That library services Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Minnesota, Ohio and Wisconsin.

Established in 1971, the EPA’s library program offers a wide range of information on environmental protection and management, basic sciences such as biology and chemistry, applied sciences such as engineering and toxicology, and topics featured in legislative mandates, such as hazardous waste, drinking water, pollution prevention and toxic substances. The EPA operates a network of 28 libraries from its Washington, D.C., headquarters and 10 regional offices nationwide.

“By putting its research collections into indefinite storage, EPA might as well start burning books because these works are not likely to see the light of day again,” said Jeff Ruch, PEER executive director, adding that the agency has not allocated funds for moving collections to other libraries or digitizing the holdings to post online.

Although the cuts could restrict access to documents, the president’s overall budget requests a significant increase in the EPA’s funds for research on nanotechnology, air pollution and secure drinking water systems. Bush cited the initiatives as part of his innovation agenda, the American Competitiveness Initiative. Announced during his State of the Union Address, the three-part program focuses on research and development, education, and workforce and immigration policies.

The “EPA might want to wait for Congress to act before it shutters its libraries,” Ruch said.

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