EPA to Allow Political Appointees to Block FOIA Document Disclosures

June 27, 2019 by Dan McCue
Andrew Wheeler at an EPA press conference last week announcing a nationwide plan to address PFAS in drinking water. PFAS water contamination has affected thousands in Bucks and Montgomery Counties.

WASHINGTON – A new EPA rule published Wednesday in the Federal Register would allow political appointees to review and withhold documents requested by the public under the Freedom of Information Act.

The rule was signed by EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler on June 14 and takes effect July 26.

Wheeler’s endorsement was not preceded by a public comment period.

One has to read six pages into the rule to find out that Wheeler and at least 11 other political appointees will now “issue final determinations whether to release or withhold a record or a portion of a record on the basis of responsiveness or under one or more exemptions under the FOIA, and to issue ‘no records’ responses.”

Friday’s Federal Register notice supplements a previous rule change that said the administrator or his delegate would oversee FOIA requests.

The new rules specifies these designees can include deputy administrators, assistant administrators, deputy assistant administrators, regional administrators, deputy regional administrators, general counsel, deputy general counsels, regional counsels, deputy regional counsels and inspector general or those individuals’ delegates.

The rule also changes the process for filing FOIA requests. Under the new rule, requests must be sent to headquarters in Washington, which will then send them to regional offices.

“If a requester erroneously submits a FOIA request to an EPA program or regional office, the EPA will not consider the request received by the Agency, the notice says.

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