Shining the Light on EPA’s Mismanagement of FOIA Requests

Mar 11, 2013

Last week, Senator David Vitter (R-LA), Senator Chuck Grassley (R-IA), and Representative Darryl Issa (R-CA) sent a letter to Attorney General Eric Holder cataloguing EPA’s ongoing failures to process Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests, and calling for an investigation. According to the letter, EPA has failed to train its staff properly in how to respond to FOIA requests, failed to provide EPA employees with sufficient internal support, intentionally delayed the FOIA process, and may have inappropriately required fees from FOIA requestors. 

The U.S. Chamber applauds Congressmen Vitter, Grassley, and Issa for calling attention to what has become an institutional problem – EPA’s dysfunctional FOIA process.  In stark contrast to the President’s stated commitment to transparency in the government, EPA consistently delays and/or fails to provide information to the public on the agency’s rulemaking process, its regulations, and the data upon which it relies.  And, on those rare occasions when the agency does respond to FOIA requests, the information is often inadequate and unintelligible.  The U.S. Chamber itself has been waiting almost six months for EPA to respond to a single FOIA request seeking copies of specific report(s) that the agency is required to issue under the Clean Air Act.  To date, EPA’s response to the U.S. Chamber has been limited to requests for more time and other delay tactics. 

EPA’s disingenuous behavior in responding to FOIA requests, however, goes beyond postponements and holdups.  According to recent reports, EPA, in response to a FOIA request, readily provided certain environmental groups with sensitive and confidential information, including the names and locations of animal feeding operations in 30 states.  The bottom line:  while EPA ignores and mishandles FOIA requests from industry groups like the U.S. Chamber, it goes to extraordinary lengths to assist its environmental advocacy group allies.    
 
The U.S. Chamber looks forward to learning the results of the Attorney General’s investigation of EPA’s recent FOIA process mismanagement.  We are hopeful that the investigation will lead to improvements in EPA’s responses to FOIA requests and more openness from the agency so that ultimately the public will be better informed.

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