Environmental Protection Agency moves to suppress scientific information

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There is a move afoot by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to prevent its scientists and others from accessing vast amounts of data and other information concerning the protection of the environment and we who occupy this fragile planet.

The Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) has issued a special alert in an effort to halt this sabotage of the flow of scientific information. The UCS is an organization headquartered in Cambridge, Mass. that helps citizens take action on policies relating to global warming, toxic waste, clean fuels, acid rain, protection of endangered species, air pollution, alternate energy, certain aspects of biotechnology, and a host of other issues that routinely confront the EPA. The UCS consists of about 100,000 concerned scientists and others who act as a watchdog for the rest of the nation.

The UCS reports that the EPA has begun closing its nationwide network of libraries where EPA scientists and other researchers have been able to access vast amounts of data and other information used for making important decisions concerning the protection of human health and the environment.

The 27 regional libraries maintained by the EPA are already under attack, with several of them having been closed, with their contents either destroyed or shipped to storage areas where they are unavailable. Three regional libraries, the headquarters library in Washington, and a specialized library storing information about the effects of chemicals have been shut down, and four regional libraries have had their hours of operation cut drastically. Incredibly, the EPA denies it is closing any libraries or destroying any documents.

The authority to take these actions seems to be dubious, at best, and stems from the Bush administration’s proposal to cut $2 million out of the EPA’s $2.5 million library services budget for 2007. Though the budget for 2007 has not been passed by Congress, the EPA Administrator, Stephen Johnson, has already started to implement the proposed drastic cut in his library budget by speedily dismantling the system. The administration’s given reason for proposing these cuts was to save money, but the amount seems insignificant in the face of EPA’s overall budget of $8 billion. Though EPA officials claim their actions stem from anticipated budget cuts, a 2004 internal EPA report has shown that a fully-dedicated library network actually saves the agency money. The report indicated the library system saved more than 214,000 man-hours in staff time that resulted in an estimated cost-saving of $7.5 million. This questions the motives of the Bush administration in severely hampering a system that actually saves money and is essential to the welfare of the nation.

Congress has been informed of what the EPA is up to, and a letter from Representatives Henry Waxman (D-Calif.), Bart Gordon (D-Tenn.), and John Dingell (D-Mich.) has prompted an investigation of the EPA library debacle by the General Accountability Office. And members of both the House and the Senate have told Administrator Stephen Johnson to cease and desist from any further disruption of the library system until an investigation of the matter is complete or the budget cuts are approved or disapproved. Many scientists, lawmakers, and private citizens have spoken out against this destruction of the library system, and four unions representing 10,000 EPA scientists have sent a letter to Congress demanding that the destruction of the library system be stopped.

A basic principle of science is that the researcher publishes his finding in a reputable medium that permits access to his work by all concerned. This sharing of scientific information is essential for the advancement of science. It is true, however, that in recent years many private companies and institutions have withheld the findings of scientists in their employ until a patent on the information that could lead to a money-making proposition has been secured. This has become especially true in the biotechnology industry. But, the EPA is a tax-supported organization, and no restrictions whatsoever should be placed on its scientists in regard to their valuable work of protecting the environment and human health.

The UCS urges concerned citizens to contact the EPA Administrator at (202) 564-4700 and urge him to restore the cuts in the system he has already made and to re-energize this whole bank of valuable information.

From the Dec. 27 2006-Jan. 2, 2007, issue

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