The Environmental Protection Agency has announced that it will be discontinuing its online archive in July 2022. This means the public will lose access to tens of thousands of web resources. These resources convey information about critical environmental issues, and past and present agency activities, policies, and priorities. All of these resources are publicly funded and intended for public consumption, but the public will no longer be able to access them.
EPA’s web archive served as a tool to counter some of the effects of the Trump administration’s censorship — especially of climate-related information. When the Trump administration deleted the majority of EPA’s climate change web resources, many of them became available (if challenging to access) through the archive. The archive hosts digital resources dating back to the 1990s, and these records allow for everything from historical research to democratic oversight. The EPA will still host snapshots of the majority of the EPA’s website as it was on the final day of the Obama administration and the Trump administration. These snapshots are, unfortunately, not as comprehensive as they were intended to be, with many Spanish language resources missing from the January 19, 2017, snapshot, for example. Retiring the EPA’s web archive means that there will be no official record of EPA web resources (aside from news releases, thankfully) outside the incomplete records from these two days in the recent past.
We need the EPA’s archive to be improved, not retired. It should link to archived historical content from the main website. It should link to archived pages from defunct URLs. The archive’s search function should be fixed, to pull up the most relevant results first and search within date ranges. Archiving material should be required, not at the discretion of individual web managers.
EPA’s archive could become a model of web governance that fosters democratic oversight. Shuttering the archive is moving backward and is a disservice to the public.
By Gretchen Gehrke, co-founder and website monitoring program leader of the Environmental Data and Governance Initiative. She also has worked in science communications and holds a PhD in environmental geochemistry.