How To Request US EPA Records

The US EPA is divided into ten regions, each which oversee a specific region in the United States, often encompassing many states at the same time, like Region 5, which oversees Ohio, Indiana, Illinois. Wisconsin, Minnesota, and Michigan.  Therefore, in order to more efficiently to administrate their Freedom of Information Act requests, they use Regional FOIA officers.

After doing some research with a former FOIA attorney with the FBI in Washington DC, I learned that the regional offices have some idiosyncrasies with delivering records, as one regional officer might respond with a different decision than another.  There is no uniformity to their system, almost as if they have no one blanket set of guidelines on how to handle all requests.

Several FOIA experts told me stories of how the US EPA had denied requests to certain journalists/activists because the end result of the records release would be partisan, one-sided, and therefore would not qualify as legitimate journalism, as if handing the records to MSNBC or Fox News is going to result in “fair and balanced reporting.”

The former FBI attorney told me that unlike the EPA, the FBI has a mandate to deliver as much information as possible and that they take great care to do just that, while the US EPA tends to operate on denying certain requests based on political reasons, say if one were to be requesting the records so they could expose corruption and cause a scandal for the EPA.

One of the issues with the EPA is that even though it’s a government organization, and non-partisan, somehow the subject of the environment has been dragged into the arena of politics.  I can tell you flat out, after years of experience, that it’s very hard to get liberals to stand up to the EPA, because they fear causing a scandal that shuts the agency down, which isn’t really possible since the EPA operates using contractors and there are hundreds of billions of dollars in contracts with everyone from Lockheed Martin to Environmental Restoration LLC that would be breached if the agency ceased to exist.

Because of this enduring political support from half the country the EPA has become bloated and corrupt.  With the Animas River Mine Spill the EPA also became one of the biggest polluters in the country, causing and estimate $300,000,000 in damages to Navajo Lands.  But, if one stands up to point this out, the person making these statements immediately get accused by liberals, of being “bought and paid for by the Koch Brothers,” or being “on the take from Gas & Oil companies,” so the US EPA knows that it can pretty much get away with anything, much like the police, and suffer no consequences because politics is protecting them.

To liberals, “EPA Lives Matter” just as much as “Blue Lives Matter” to right wingers.  Neither one of these groups sees the irony that they are calling each other morons for acting out the exact same pattern of behavior as the very people they are criticizing.

Unfortunately, The EPA only responds to mass public outcry.  That is really about the only way to get them to act.  Since most of the activist are liberal and support the US EPA, and conservatives generally do not care about environmental causes, you’ll find yourself sandwiched into opposition groups from both sides if you try to create the controversy, yourself.  As it stands, the only way to get everyone in a community to act is to poison them in a way that is so atrocious, like what happened in Flint, Michigan, that suddenly politics no longer matter.

The net result of all of this is that the US EPA will jerk you around for years if you are not working for an EPA contractor in some fashion and have a technical need for the records.  However, this should not deter you, because legally they have to give you the records.

If they give you any guff about obtaining records my advice is that you immediately contact a reputable FOIA attorney.  You’ll find their prices to quite reasonable, with the average cost being around $500 for a single FOIA request followed through to completion, not including copying fees

How to Make a FOIA Request

EPA does not require a special form in order to make a FOIA request. Requests must be in writing, either handwritten or typed. They may be submitted by courier services, mail, or via FOIAonline.

Your request should be as specific as possible with regard to names, dates, time frames, places, events, subjects, etc. Describe the record as accurately and definitively as possible. You do not have to give a requested record’s name or title, but the more specific you are, the more likely it will be that the record you seek can be located. For example, if you are seeking records dealing with hazardous waste contamination on a specific address, you should address your request to the EPA Regional FOIA Office that covers the state in which the site is located.

A FOIA request can be made for any Agency record. This does not mean, however, that EPA will disclose every record sought. There are nine exemptions that authorize the withholding of information of an appropriately sensitive nature. When EPA withholds information, it will specify which exemption of FOIA permits the withholding. You should be aware that the FOIA does not require agencies to do research for you, to analyze data, to answer questions, or to create records in order to respond to a request.

 

Time for Response

Federal agencies are required to respond to a FOIA request within twenty working days, excluding Saturdays, Sundays, and legal holidays. The twenty-day period does not begin until the request is received by the Agency and identify the records you are seeking and have an agreement to pay fees or a fee waiver has been granted.

The Agency may extend the response time for an additional ten working days when:

  1. It needs to collect responsive records from field offices;
  2. The request involves a “voluminous” amount of records which must be located, compiled, and reviewed; or
  3. The Agency must consult with another agency which has a substantial interest in the responsive material or with two or more other offices of EPA.

When an extension is needed, EPA will notify you and offer you the opportunity to modify or limit your request. Alternatively, you may agree to a different timetable for the processing of your request.

Fees

There is no fee to file a FOIA request and in many cases, no fees are charged for processing.

The FOIA divides requesters into four fee categories:

  1. Commercial requesters may be charged fees for searching for records, reviewing the records, and photocopying them;
  2. Educational or noncommercial scientific institutions are charged for photocopying, after the first 100 pages;
  3. Representatives of the news media are charged for photocopying after the first 100 pages; and
  4. All other requesters (requesters who do not fall into any of the other three categories) are charged for photocopying after 100 pages and for time spent searching for records in excess of two hours.

EPA charges $0.15 per page for single-sided black and white photocopying. Actual costs are charged for a format other than paper copy, such as computer tapes, disks and videotapes.

You may include in your request a specific statement limiting the amount that you are willing to pay in fees. If you do not do so, EPA will assume that you are willing to pay fees up to $25.

Editor’s Note: Keep in mind that the records caches for some toxic sites run into the millions of pages.  For example, the Portland Harbor Superfund site has and estimated one million pages of documentation, so consider that fact when calculating the costs of your request. 

Fee Waivers

You may request in writing to have fees waived if the disclosure of the requested information is in the public interest because it is likely to contribute significantly to public understanding of the operations and activities of the government and is not primarily in the commercial interest of the requester. The mere fact that you are a non-profit organization or a member of the media does not in and of itself qualify for a fee waiver. In addition, a requester’s inability to pay is not a legal basis for granting you a fee waiver. EPA regulations require you to make the fee waiver request at the time you submit the request.

Regional FOIA Offices

Map of the US, split into EPA regions

 Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, Vermont  New Jersey, New York, Puerto Rico, US Virgin Islands  Delaware, District of Columbia, Maryland, Pennsylvania, Virginia, West Virginia  Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee  Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Minnesota, Ohio, Wisconsin  Arkansas, Louisiana, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Texas  Iowa, Kansas, Missouri, Nebraska  Colorado, Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota, Utah, Wyoming  Arizona, California, Hawaii, Nevada, Pacific Islands  Alaska, Idaho, Oregon, Washington

Region 1 (States: CT, ME, MA, NH, RI, VT)

Regional Freedom of Information Officer
U.S. EPA, Region 1 (OARM01-6)
5 Post Office Square, Suite 100
Boston, MA 02109-3912
(617) 918-1102

Region 2 (States: NJ, NY, PR, VI)

Regional Freedom of Information Officer
U.S. EPA, Region 2
290 Broadway, 26th Floor
New York, NY 10007-1866
(212) 637-3668

Region 3 (States: DE, DC, MD, PA, VA, WV)

Regional Freedom of Information Officer
U.S. EPA, Region 3
1650 Arch Street (3CG00)
Philadelphia, PA 19103
(215) 814-2050

Region 4 (States: AL, FL, GA, KY, MS, NC, SC, TN)

Regional Freedom of Information Officer
U.S. EPA, Region 4
AFC Bldg, 61 Forsyth Street., S.W., 9th Flr (4PM/IF)
Atlanta, GA 30303-8960
(404) 562-9891

Region 5 (States: IL, IN, MI, MN, OH, WI)

Regional Freedom of Information Officer
U.S. EPA, Region 5
77 West Jackson Boulevard (MI-9J)
Chicago, IL 60604-3590
(312) 886-6686

Region 6 (States: AR, LA, NM, OK, TX)

Regional Freedom of Information Officer
U.S. EPA, Region 6
1445 Ross Avenue (6MD-OE)
Dallas, TX 75202-2733
(214) 665-7202

Region 7 (States: IA, KS, MO, NE)

Regional Freedom of Information Officer
U.S. EPA, Region 7
11201 Renner Boulevard
Lenexa, KS  66219
(913) 551-7003

Region 8 (States: CO, MT, ND, SD, UT, WY)

Regional Freedom of Information Officer
U.S. EPA, Region 8
1595 Wynkoop Street
Denver, CO 80202-1129
(303) 312-6306

Region 9 (States: AZ, CA, HI, NV, AS, GU)

Regional Freedom of Information Officer
U.S. EPA, Region 9
75 Hawthorne Street (OPA-2)
San Francisco, CA 94105
(415) 947-4251

Region 10 (States: AK, ID, OR, WA)

Regional Freedom of Information Officer
U.S. EPA, Region 10
Office of Ecosystems, Tribal and Public Affairs
1200 6th Avenue ETPA-124
Seattle, WA 98101
(206) 553-8665

Leave a Reply