Senators push to reopen EPA libraries

Sens. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) and Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.) are circulating a letter in support of maintaining public access to library collections and services throughout an Environmental Protection Agency library system that the EPA has already begun to dismantle.

The letter also urges the agency to solicit public and congressional input before restructuring the library program. The senators hope to send the letter to the Senate Appropriations Committee after collecting additional signatures, a congressional staffer said today.

This morning, the American Library Association and OpenTheGovernment.org e-mailed a draft of the letter to listserv members, with a note encouraging them to call on their senators to sign on to the Boxer-Lautenberg letter before it is sent.

In September, House Democratic leaders asked the Government Accountability Office to review the EPA’s plan to close some of its libraries as the agency converts a network of physical libraries to a digital system. GAO officials granted the lawmakers’ request. The lawmakers were concerned that thousands of documents might become inaccessible during the switchover, but EPA officials said they will ensure that doesn’t happen.

Last month, EPA officials said that during the transition, all documents will remain available through special arrangements the agency has made. The new library network will provide more materials and greater access because the delivery system will be automated, officials added.

The Bush administration’s plan, which is part of the president’s fiscal 2007 budget recommendations, proposes to save $2 million by cutting more than 30 percent of the EPA libraries’ funds. The plan would shut down three regional EPA libraries and the agency’s headquarters library. It would cut the hours of operation at other EPA libraries, according to agency officials. The four facilities closed Oct. 1.

The nationwide EPA Library Network consists of 28 libraries. The EPA’s scientists, regulators and attorneys use the collections and services to gather information they need to conduct environmental assessments, develop regulations and enforce laws.

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