The Society of Environmental Journalists is calling on Congress to restore budget cuts that would close most EPA libraries making it hard not only for reporters to do their jobs, but also for EPA scientists and attorneys.
In an August 8, 2006, letter to Appropriations Committee leaders, SEJ President Perry Beeman said, "Closing and dismantling the agency's network of technical research libraries, which would put thousands of scientific studies out of reach, has the potential to hinder emergency preparedness and anti-pollution enforcement and long-term research."
White House cuts to the Environmental Protection Agency's administrative support budget line would be passed on by EPA to the agency's network of some 27 libraries in its headquarters and various regional offices and labs. All those units together run on a budget of about $2.5 million a year which would be cut in 2007 by 4/5, down to $500,000 a year. That would close the headquarters library, the main library electronic catalog, and most of the satellite units. EPA has already begun shutting down library units in anticipation of the cuts.
Many reporters use EPA libraries to research stories, and the libraries often function as "reading rooms" for access to public documents and notices, often legally required. The general public can also use EPA libraries.
Perhaps the most important users of EPA libraries are agency employees themselves research scientists, enforcement attorneys, and policy analysts. The cuts come at a time when the White House is criticizing agency science as not being "sound" enough yet ironically the cuts would make it far harder for agency researchers to do competent science.
EPA's funding is contained in the appropriations bill (HR 5386) for Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies. That bill passed the House May 18, 2006, by a 293 - 128 vote. An amended version passed the Senate Appropriations Committee June 29, and the bill is now awaiting Senate floor action. Neither the bill nor accompanying reports mention EPA libraries in a specific line item, but the Senate or conferees could add funds or language ordering EPA to restore the libraries.
SEJ spoke out against the library cuts at the urging of its First Amendment Task Force, which serves as a watchdog on information-access issues. In his letter, SEJ President Beeman said the position was based on support for open government. But Beeman also argued that the EPA claim that it was cutting the libraries as a financial efficiency move was "misguided." He noted that a November 2005 cost-benefit analysis conducted by the agency "concludes that shutting EPA's libraries actually will lead to a much larger financial burden" since the library system saved some 214,000 hours of staff time, at a dollar-cost savings of approximately $7.5 million.