The EPA is again being accused of stonewalling Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests. The Energy & Environment Legal Institute (EELI) filed suit yesterday to try to force the EPA to turn over blocked FOIA requested records related to its veto of a West Virginia coal mine permit. The agency has controversially claimed that the veto was due to the potential harm the mine would have on mayfly populations.
The suit also alleges that the EPA stonewalls requests by charging excessive fees for the information. EELI says its fee waiver request was denied and was required to pay $2,000 to access the information. This is despite its compliance with a 1966 FOIA provision, whose intent was to ensure freedom to information for even financially small petitioners, which states fees should be waived if the information will be “broadly disseminated to the public.” According to Chris Horner, EELI’s legal counsel, “Every time the agency uses these tactics they do succeed in delaying disclosure and wearing down smaller, private parties with far fewer resources than the federal government.”
Horner claims the EPA is engaging in political bias in its fee decisions, targeting conservative groups over liberal ones. Last year, Senate Republicans reviewed more than 1,200 fee waiver application and found that the EPA waived the fee for environmental groups 92 percent of the time while rejecting conservative groups by the same percentage.
This stonewalling is simply the latest in a long string of similar accusations against the EPA. For example, it was accused of delaying FOIA requests for information about the Keystone approval process and stalling FOIAs regarding information about official EPA business conducted on private emails (presumably to avoid having to comply with FOIA requests). A federal judge last August opined that the EPA “may have purposefully attempted to skirt disclosure under the FOIA,” adding that “numerous inconsistencies” in the agency’s court filings “undermine confidence in their truthfulness.”