Washington, DC — The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is sharply reducing the number of technical journals and environmental publications to which its employees will have online access, according to agency e-mails released today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). This loss of online access compounds the effect of agency library closures, meaning that affected employees may not have access to either a hard copy or an electronic version of publications.
Citing budgetary shortfalls, cancellations of online subscriptions will be felt more sharply in some EPA offices and regions than others. For example, one e-mail notes: “Region 3 [Mid-Atlantic Region] needs to cut its journal renewals about in half and the journals in question are very expensive.” Other offices will face cuts of as yet unspecified but likely comparable dimensions.
In addition to technical journals, EPA is also canceling its subscriptions to widely-read environmental news reports, such as Greenwire, The Clean Air Report and The Superfund Report, which summarize and synthesize breaking events and trends inside industry, government and academia. Greenwire, for example, recorded more than 125,000 hits from EPA staff last year.
As a result of these cuts, agency scientists and other technical specialists will no longer have ready access to materials that keep them abreast of developments within their fields. Moreover, enforcement staff, investigators and other professionals will have a harder time tracking new developments affecting their cases and projects.
“EPA’s professionals need current information in order to do their jobs, but with each passing month, even these basic tools are being put off limits,” stated PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch, whose organization has been drawing attention to EPA’s shuttering of its technical libraries. “EPA is entering its own Dark Age, where both the inward and outward flows of information are being strained through an ever-narrowing sieve.”
Ironically, EPA managers had sought to ease employee concerns about library closures by claiming that the agency “is implementing a new library plan to make environmental information more accessible to employees,” according to a mid-September e-mail sent to all Headquarters employees concerning the closure of the Headquarters library. Contrary to these assurances, however, the way in which the agency is implementing budget reductions portends that employee access to materials will markedly decline. In addition, cancellation of hard copy subscriptions occasioned by library closures has actually driven up online subscription costs, as online discounts for hard copy subscribers have been forfeit.
Overall, EPA’s research budget is also being reduced, even though President Bush is seeking selected increases in EPA research for topics such as nanotechnology and drinking water system security as part of an “American Competitive Initiative.”
“Without libraries and scientific journals, EPA may have to drop out of the President’s ‘Competitive Initiative,’” Ruch added.