CEI v. EPA, Fee Waiver Case – April 4 Complaint

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Plaintiff COMPETITIVE ENTERPRISE INSTITUTE (“CEI”) for its complaint against Defendant UNITED STATES ENVIRONMENTAL PROTECTION AGENCY (“EPA” or “the Agency”), alleges as follows:

1) This is an action under the Freedom of Information Act (“FOIA”), 5 U.S.C. § 552, to compel production under one FOIA request seeking copies of EPA letters granting or denying requests to have FOIA fees waived or substantially reduced as mandated by 5 U.S.C. § 552(a)(4)(A)(iii). (That provision applies when “disclosure of the information is in the public interest because it is likely to contribute significantly to public understanding of the operations or activities of the government and is not primarily in the commercial interest of the requester.”)

2) Plaintiff submitted its request on March 4, 2013, after experiencing a series of denials of its own requests for fee waiver, and learning of EPA using fees as a barrier to other, similarly situated requesters who also broadly disseminate government information.

3) Plaintiff’s experience reflects a sudden and marked reversal by Defendant of its practice of routinely granting fee waivers to Plaintiff, a not-for-profit public policy and education institute which broadly disseminates public information and promotes government transparency.

4) These letters are Agency records and their disclosure will reveal the extent to which Defendant EPA has complied with disclosure and other FOIA obligations, including how evenly it treats requesting parties under an important transparency law.

5) EPA did not respond in any way to Plaintiff’s request seeking copies of such fee waiver determinations that it had issued over the course of approximately the past year.

6) As such, and in the face of revelations about organized and systemic abuses by senior federal employees in violation of their transparency and disclosure obligations, EPA has denied this request, leaving Plaintiff no recourse but this lawsuit asking this Court to compel EPA to comply with the law.