Washington, DC — Prosecution of polluters by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency “will be compromised” due to the loss of “timely, correct and accessible” information from the agency’s closure of its network of technical libraries, according to an internal memo released today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). EPA enforcement staff currently rely upon the libraries to obtain technical information to support pollution prosecutions and to track the business histories of regulated industries.
In a memo prepared last week by the enforcement arm of EPA, called the Office of Enforcement and Compliance (OECA), agency staff detailed concerns about the effects of EPA’s plans to close many of its libraries, box up the collections and eliminate or sharply reduce library services. Each year, EPA’s libraries handle more than 134,000 research requests from its own scientific and enforcement staff. The memo states:
“If OECA is involved in a civil or criminal litigation and the judge asks for documentation, we can currently rely upon a library to locate the information and have it produced to a court house in a timely manner. Under the cuts called for in the plan, timeliness for such services is not addressed.”
In addition, the memo raises negative side effects relating to –
- Forensics. “The NEIC (National Enforcement Investigations Center) Library is the only specialized environmental forensic library in the Agency. The NEIC library supports enforcement in the regions when there is a need for NEIC’s expertise or unique materials…Loss of support for enforcement within the regions may cause an overwhelming demand on the small NEIC library by requiring the NEIC library to provide not only unique materials, but also items that the regional libraries currently provide. There is no budget available to expand NEIC’s library capacity should this increased demand for NEIC library services occur.”
- Lost Collections. “OECA is seriously concerned that these documents may be distributed without adequate documentation and cataloging and may become virtually lost within the system.”
- Institutional Memory. “OECA is concerned that the loss of institutional memory as well as the loss of expertise from professional librarians in the regions will hamper OECA’s enforcement program.”
“Cutting $2 million in library services in an EPA budget totaling nearly $8 billion is the epitome of a penny wise-pound foolish economy,” stated PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch. “From research to regulation to enforcement, EPA is an information-dependent operation which needs libraries and librarians to function properly.”