(a) Timing of response. The EPA office assigned to process the FOIA request will initiate the search, collection, and review process, and respond to a request within 20 working days from the date the request was received by one of the methods identified in § 2.101(a), unless unusual or exceptional circumstances exist as provided in paragraph (e) of this section. If EPA fails to respond to the request within the statutory time-period, or any authorized extension of time, the requester may seek judicial review to obtain the records without first making an administrative appeal.
(b) On receipt of a request, the National FOIA Office ordinarily will send a written acknowledgment advising the requester of the date the Agency received the request and of the processing number assigned to the request for future reference.
(c) Multitrack processing. The Agency uses three or more processing tracks by distinguishing between simple and complex requests based on the amount of work, time needed to process the request, or both, including limits based on the number of pages involved. The Agency will advise the requester of the processing track in which the Agency placed the request and the limits of the different processing tracks. The Agency may place the request in a slower track while providing the requester with the opportunity to limit the scope of the request to qualify for faster processing within the specified limits of a faster track. If the Agency places the request in a slower track, the Agency will contact the requester.
(d) Tolling the request. Once the request is received, the Agency shall not toll the processing time-period except:
(1) The Agency may toll the processing time-period one time while seeking clarification from the requester; or
(2) The Agency may toll the processing time-period as many times as necessary to resolve fee issues.
(e) Unusual circumstances. When the Agency cannot meet statutory time limits for processing a request because of “unusual circumstances,” as defined in the FOIA, and the time limits are extended on that basis, the Agency will notify the requester in writing, as soon as practicable, of the unusual circumstances and of the date by which processing of the request should be completed. If the 20 working-day period is extended, EPA will give the requester an opportunity to limit the scope of the request, modify the request, or agree to an alternative time-period for processing, as described by the FOIA. EPA will also provide contact information for its FOIA Public Liaison to assist in the resolution of any disputes between the requester and the Agency, and the Agency will notify the requester of their right to seek dispute resolution services from the Office of Government Information Services within the National Archives and Records Administration.
(f) Expedited processing.
(1) EPA will take requests or appeals out of order and give expedited treatment whenever EPA determines that such requests or appeals involve a compelling need, as follows:
(i) Circumstances in which the lack of expedited treatment could reasonably be expected to pose an imminent threat to the life or physical safety of an individual; or
(ii) An urgency to inform the public about an actual or alleged Federal government activity, if the information is requested by a person primarily engaged in disseminating information to the public.
(2) Requesters must make a request for expedited processing at the time of the initial request for records or at the time of appeal.
(3) If the requester seeks expedited processing, the requester must submit a statement, certified to be true and correct to the best of the requester's knowledge and belief, explaining in detail the basis for the request. For example, if the requester fits within the category described in paragraph (f)(1)(ii) of this section and is not a full-time member of the news media, the requester must establish that they are a person whose primary professional activity or occupation is information dissemination, although it need not be the requester's sole occupation. If the requester fits within the category described in paragraph (f)(1)(ii) of this section, the requester must also establish a particular urgency to inform the public about the government activity involved in the request, beyond the public's right to know about government activity generally.
(4) Within 10 calendar days from the date of the request for expedited processing, the Chief FOIA Officer, or the Chief FOIA Officer's delegates, will decide whether to grant the request and will notify the requester of the decision. If the Agency grants the request for expedited processing, the Agency will give the request priority and will process the request as soon as practicable. If the Agency denies the request for expedited processing, the Agency will act on any appeal of that decision expeditiously.
(g) Grants of requests. Once the Agency determines to grant a request in whole or in part, it will release the records or parts of records to the requester and notify the requester of any applicable fee charged under § 2.107. The office will annotate records released in part, whenever technically feasible, with the applicable FOIA exemption or exemptions at that part of the record from which the exempt information was deleted.
(h) Adverse determinations of requests. When the Agency makes an adverse determination, the Agency will notify the requester of that determination in writing. Adverse determinations include:
(1) A decision that the requested record is exempt from disclosure, in whole or in part;
(2) A decision that the information requested is not a record subject to the FOIA;
(3) A decision that the requested record does not exist or cannot be located;
(4) A decision that the requested record is not readily reproducible in the form or format sought by the requester;
(5) A determination on any disputed fee matter, including a denial of a request for a fee waiver; or
(6) A denial of a request for expedited processing.
(i) Content of final determination letter. The appropriate official will issue the final determination letter in accordance with § 2.103(b) of this subpart and will include:
(1) The name and title or position of the person responsible for the determination;
(2) A brief statement of the reason or reasons for the denial, including an identification of records being withheld (either individually or, if a large number of similar records are being denied, described by category) and any FOIA exemption applied by the office in denying the request;
(3) An estimate of the volume of records or information withheld, in number of pages or in some other reasonable form of estimation. This estimate does not need to be provided if the volume is otherwise indicated through annotated deletions on records disclosed in part, or if providing an estimate would harm an interest protected by an applicable exemption;
(4) A statement that an adverse determination may be appealed under (j) of this section and description of the requirements for submitting an administrative appeal; and
(5) A statement that the requester has the right to seek dispute resolution services from an EPA FOIA Public Liaison or the Office of Government Information Service.
(j) Appeals of adverse determinations. If the requester is dissatisfied with any adverse determination of their request, the requester may appeal that determination by letter to the National FOIA Office, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, 1200 Pennsylvania Avenue NW (2310A), Washington, DC 20460 or email@example.com. The requester must make their appeal in writing, and the Agency must receive the requester's appeal no later than 90 calendar days from the date of the letter that denied the request. The Agency will not consider appeals received after the 90-calendar day limit. Requesters submitting appeals electronically must do so before 5:00 p.m. Eastern Time for the Agency to consider the appeal as received on that date. The appeal letter may include as much or as little related information as the requester wishes, as long as it clearly identifies the determination being appealed (including the assigned FOIA request number, if known). For quickest handling, the requester must mark their appeal letter and its envelope with “Freedom of Information Act Appeal.” Unless the Administrator directs otherwise, the General Counsel or the General Counsel's delegate will act on behalf of the Administrator on all appeals under this Section, except that:
(1) The Counsel to the Inspector General will act on any appeal where the Inspector General or the Inspector General's delegate has made the final adverse determination; however, if the Counsel to the Inspector General has signed the final adverse determination, the General Counsel or the General Counsel's delegate will act on the appeal;
(2) An adverse determination by the Administrator on an initial request will serve as the final action of the Agency; and
(3) If a requester seeks judicial review because the Agency has not responded in a timely manner, any further action on an appeal will take place through the lawsuit.
(k) EPA will make the decision on the appeal in writing, normally within 20 working days of its receipt by the National FOIA Office. A decision affirming an adverse determination in whole or in part will contain a statement of the reason or reasons for the decision, including any FOIA exemption or exemptions applied, and inform the requester of the FOIA provisions for judicial review of the decision. If the Agency reverses or modifies the adverse determination on appeal, the Agency will notify the requester in a written decision. In the written decision, the Agency will attach the requested information that the Agency determined on appeal to be releasable, or the Agency will return the request to the appropriate office so that the office may reprocess the request in accordance with the appeal decision.
(l) If the requester wishes to seek judicial review of any adverse determination, the requester must first appeal that adverse determination under this Section, except when EPA has not responded to the request within the applicable time-period. In such cases, the requester may seek judicial review without making an administrative appeal.