(a) In general. The Agency will charge for processing requests under the FOIA in accordance with paragraph (c) of this section, except where fees are limited under paragraph (d) of this section or where a waiver or reduction of fees is granted under paragraph (l) of this section. Requesters will pay fees by check or money order made payable to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
(b) Definitions. For purposes of this section:
(1) Commercial use request means a request from or on behalf of a person who seeks information for a use or purpose that furthers the requester's commercial, trade, or profit interests, which can include furthering those interests through litigation. The Agency will determine, whenever reasonably possible, the use to which a requester will put the requested records. When it appears that the requester will put the records to a commercial use, either because of the nature of the request itself or because the Agency has reasonable cause to doubt a requester's stated use, the Agency will provide the requester a reasonable opportunity to submit further clarification.
(2) Direct costs means those expenses that the Agency actually incurs in searching for and duplicating (and, in the case of commercial use requests, reviewing) records to respond to a FOIA request. Direct costs include, for example, the salary of the employee performing the work and the cost of operating duplication equipment. Not included in direct costs are overhead expenses such as the costs of space and heating or lighting of the facility in which the records are kept.
(3) Duplication means the making of a copy of a record, or of the information contained in it, necessary to respond to a FOIA request. Copies can take the form of paper, microform, audiovisual materials, or electronic records (for example, magnetic tape, disk, or compact disk), among others. The Agency will honor a requester's specified preference of form or format of disclosure if the record is readily reproducible with reasonable efforts in the requested form or format.
(4) Educational institution means a preschool, a public or private elementary or secondary school, an institution of undergraduate higher education, an institution of graduate higher education, an institution of professional education, or an institution of vocational education, that operates a program of scholarly research. To be in this category, a requester must show that the request is authorized by, and is made under the auspices of, a qualifying institution and that the records are not sought for a commercial use but are sought to further scholarly research.
(5) Noncommercial scientific institution means an institution not operated on a “commercial” basis, as defined in paragraph (b)(1) of this section, and that is operated solely for conducting scientific research that is not intended to promote any particular product or industry. To be in this category, a requester must show that a qualifying institution authorizes the request, that the requester makes the request under the auspices of the qualifying institution, and that the requester does not seek the records for a commercial use but to further scientific research.
(6) Representative of the news media has the meaning provided at 5 U.S.C. 552(a)(4)(A)(ii).
(7) Review means the examination of a record located in response to a request to determine whether any portion of it is exempt from disclosure. It also includes processing any record for disclosure (for example, doing all that is necessary to redact it and prepare it for disclosure). Review costs are recoverable even if a record ultimately is not disclosed. Review time includes time spent considering any formal objection to disclosure made by a business submitter requesting confidential treatment but does not include time spent resolving general legal or policy issues regarding the application of exemptions.
(8) Search means the process of looking for and retrieving records or information responsive to a request. It includes page-by-page or line-by-line identification of information within records and includes reasonable efforts to locate and retrieve information from records maintained in electronic form or format. Offices will ensure that searches are done in the most efficient and least expensive manner reasonably possible. For example, offices will not search line-by-line where duplicating an entire document would be quicker and less expensive.
(c) Fees to be charged.
(1) There are four categories of requests. The Agency charges fees for each of these categories as follows:
(i) Commercial use requests. The Agency will charge a requester seeking access to records for a commercial use for the time spent searching for the records, reviewing the records for possible disclosure, and for the cost of each page of duplication. The Agency may charge for searching for and/or reviewing the records even if no responsive records are found or if the records are located but are determined to be exempt from disclosure.
(ii) Educational or non-commercial scientific requests. The Agency will charge requesters from educational or noncommercial scientific institution, whose purpose is scholarly or scientific research, only for the cost of record duplication, except that the Agency will furnish the first 100 pages of duplication at no charge.
(iii) News media requests. The Agency will charge requesters who are representatives of the news media, and whose purpose in seeking records is noncommercial, for the cost of duplication, except that the first 100 pages of duplication will be furnished at no charge.
(iv) All other requests. The Agency will charge requesters not covered by one of the three categories above for the full cost of search and duplication, except that the Agency will furnish without charge the first two hours of search time and the first 100 pages of duplication. The Agency will charge for searching for the records even if no responsive records are found or if the records are located but are determined to be exempt from disclosure.
(2) In responding to FOIA requests, the Agency will charge the following fees unless a waiver or reduction of fees has been granted under paragraph (l) of this section:
(A) The Agency will charge search fees for all requests except for those made by educational institutions or noncommercial scientific institutions, or representatives of the news media subject to the limitations of paragraph (d) of this section. The Agency will charge for time spent searching even if no responsive records are found or if the records are located but are determined to be exempt from disclosure.
(B) For searches and retrievals of requested records, either manually or electronically, conducted by clerical personnel, the fee will be $4.00 for each quarter hour of time. For searches and retrievals of requested records, either manually or electronically, requiring the use of professional personnel, the fee will be $7.00 for each quarter hour of time. For searches and retrievals of requested records, either manually or electronically, requiring the use of managerial personnel, the fee will be $10.25 for each quarter hour of time.
(C) When contractors conduct searches and retrievals, the Agency will charge requesters for the actual charges up to but not exceeding the rate that the Agency would have charged the requester had EPA employees conducted the search. The Agency will charge the costs of actual computer resource usage in connection with such searches, to the extent they can be determined.
(ii) Duplication. The Agency will charge duplication fees to all requesters, subject to the limitations of paragraph (d) of this section. For either a photocopy or a computer-generated printout of a record (no more than one copy of which need be supplied), the fee will be fifteen (15) cents per page. For electronic forms of duplication, other than a computer-generated printout, offices will charge the direct costs of that duplication. Such direct costs will include the costs of the requested electronic medium on which the copy is to be made and the actual operator time and computer resource usage required to produce the copy, to the extent they can be determined.
(iii) Review. The Agency will charge review fees to requesters who make a commercial use request. The Agency will charge review fees only for the initial record review (that is, the review done when an office is deciding whether an exemption applies to a particular record or portion of a record at the initial request level). The Agency will not charge for review at the administrative appeal level for an exemption already applied. However, the Agency may again review records or portions of records withheld under an exemption that the Agency subsequently determines not to apply to determine whether any other exemption not previously considered applies; the Agency will charge costs of that review when a change of circumstances makes it necessary. The Agency will charge review fees at the same rates as those charged for a search under paragraph (c)(1)(i) of this section.
(d) Limitations on charging fees.
(1) The Agency will charge no search or review fees for requests by educational institutions or noncommercial scientific institutions, or representatives of the news media.
(2) The Agency will charge no search fee or review fee for a quarter-hour period unless more than half of that period is required for search or review.
(3) Except for requesters seeking records for a commercial use, offices will provide without charge:
(i) The first 100 pages of duplication, and
(ii) The first two hours of search.
(4) The Agency will charge no fee when a total fee calculated under paragraph (c) of this section is $14.00 or less for any request.
(5) The provisions of paragraphs (d)(3) and (4) of this section work together. This means that for requesters other than those seeking records for a commercial use, the Agency will charge no fee unless the cost of search in excess of two hours plus the cost of duplication in excess of 100 pages totals more than $14.00.
(6) If EPA fails to comply with the FOIA's time limits for responding to a request, EPA will not charge search fees, or, in the instance of requesters described in paragraphs (b)(4) through (6) of this section, duplication fees, except as follows:
(i) If EPA determined that unusual circumstances as defined by the FOIA apply and the Agency provided timely written notice to the requester in accordance with the FOIA, a failure to comply with the time limit shall be excused for an additional 10 working days;
(ii) If EPA determined that unusual circumstances as defined by the FOIA apply and more than 5,000 pages are necessary to respond to the request, EPA may charge search fees, or, in the case of requesters described in paragraph paragraphs (b)(4) through (6) of this section, may charge duplication fees, if the following steps are taken: EPA must have provided timely written notice of unusual circumstances to the requester in accordance with the FOIA and the EPA must have discussed with the requester by written mail, email, or telephone (or made not less than three good-faith attempts to do so) how the requester could effectively limit the scope of the request in accordance with 5 U.S.C. 552(a)(6)(B)(ii), which includes notification to the requester of the availability of the FOIA Public Liaison and the right to seek dispute resolution services from the Office of Government Information Services. If this exception is satisfied, EPA may charge all applicable fees incurred in the processing of the request; or
(iii) If a court determines that exceptional circumstances exist, as defined by the FOIA, a failure to comply with the time limits shall be excused for the length of time provided by the court order.
(e) Notice of anticipated fees in excess of $25.00. When the Agency determines or estimates that the fees the Agency will charge under this Section will amount to more than $25.00, the Agency will notify the requester of the actual or estimated amount of the fees, unless the requester has indicated a willingness to pay fees as high as those anticipated. The amount of $25.00 is cumulative for multi-office requests. If the Agency can only readily estimate a portion of the fee, the Agency will advise the requester that the estimated fee may be only a portion of the total fee. When the Agency notifies a requester that actual or estimated fees will amount to more than $25.00, the Agency will do no further work on the request until the requester agrees to pay the anticipated total fee. The Agency will exclude time from the twenty (20) working day time limit. EPA will memorialize any such agreement in writing. A notice under this paragraph will offer the requester an opportunity to discuss the matter with Agency personnel to reformulate the request to meet the requester's needs at a lower cost.
(f) Charges for other services. Apart from the other provisions of this section, when the Agency chooses as a matter of administrative discretion to provide a special service - such as certifying that records are true copies or sending records by other than ordinary mail - the Agency will ordinarily charge the direct costs of providing the service.
(g) Charging interest. EPA may charge interest on any unpaid bill starting on the 31st day following the date of billing the requester. The Agency will assess interest charges at the rate provided in 31 U.S.C. 3717 and will accrue from the date of the billing until the Agency receives payment. EPA will follow the provisions of the Debt Collection Act of 1982 (Pub. L. 97-365), as amended, and its administrative procedures, including the use of consumer reporting agencies, collection agencies, and offset. The Agency will assess no penalty against FOIA requesters for exercising their statutory right to ask the Agency to waive or reduce a fee or to dispute a billing. If a fee is in dispute, the Agency will suspend penalties upon notification.
(h) Delinquent requesters. If requesters fail to pay all fees within 60 calendar days of the fees assessment, the Agency will place the requester on a delinquency list. The Agency will not process subsequent FOIA requests until the requester makes payment of the overdue fees.
(i) Aggregating requests. When the Agency reasonably believes that a requester or a group of requesters acting together is attempting to divide a request into a series of requests for the purpose of avoiding fees, the Agency may aggregate those requests and charge accordingly. The Agency may presume that multiple requests of this type made within a 30-day period have been made to avoid fees. When requests are separated by a longer period, the Agency will aggregate them only if there exists a solid basis for determining that aggregation is warranted under all the circumstances involved. The Agency will not aggregate multiple requests involving unrelated matters.
(j) Advance payments.
(1) For requests other than those described in paragraphs (j)(2) and (3) of this section, the Agency will not require the requester to make an advance payment (that is, a payment made before EPA begins or continues work on a request). Payment owed for work already completed (that is, a prepayment before the Agency sends copies to a requester) is not an advance payment.
(2) When the Agency determines or estimates that a total fee to be charged under this section will be more than $250.00, it may require the requester to make an advance payment of an amount up to the amount of the entire anticipated fee before beginning to process the request, except when it receives a satisfactory assurance of full payment from a requester that has a history of prompt payment.
(3) When a requester has previously failed to pay a properly charged FOIA fee to the Agency within 30 calendar days of the date of billing, the Agency may require the requester to pay the full amount due, plus any applicable interest, and to make an advance payment of the full amount of any anticipated fee, before the Agency begins to process a new request or continues to process a pending request from that requester.
(4) When the Agency requires advance payment or payment due under paragraph (j)(3) of this section, the Agency will not consider the request, and EPA will do no further work on the request until the requester makes the required payment.
(k) Other statutes specifically providing for fees. The fee schedule of this section does not apply to fees charged under any other statute that specifically requires an agency to set and collect fees for particular types of records. When records responsive to requests are maintained for distribution by agencies operating such statutorily based fee schedule programs, EPA will inform requesters of the steps for obtaining records from those sources so that they may do so most economically.
(l) Waiver or reduction of fees.
(1) Records responsive to a request will be furnished without charge or at a charge reduced below that established under paragraph (c) of this section when the Agency determines, based on all available information, that disclosure of the requested 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) To determine whether the request meets the first fee waiver requirement, the Agency will consider the following factors:
(i) The subject of the request. Whether the subject of the requested records concerns “the operations or activities of the government.” The subject of the requested records must concern identifiable operations or activities of the Federal government, with a connection that is direct and clear, not remote.
(ii) The informative value of the information to be disclosed. Whether the disclosure is “likely to contribute” to an understanding of government operations or activities. The disclosable portions of the requested records must be meaningfully informative about government operations or activities in order to be “likely to contribute” to an increased public understanding of those operations or activities. The disclosure of information that already is in the public domain, in either a duplicative or a substantially identical form, would not be as likely to contribute to such understanding when nothing new would be added to the public's understanding.
(iii) The contribution to an understanding of the subject by the public is likely to result from the disclosure. Whether disclosure of the requested information will contribute to “public understanding.” The disclosure must contribute to the understanding of a reasonably broad audience of persons interested in the subject, as opposed to the individual understanding of the requester. The Agency will consider a requester's expertise in the subject area and ability and intention to effectively convey information to the public. The Agency presumes that a representative of the news media will satisfy this consideration.
(iv) The significance of the contribution to public understanding. Whether the disclosure is likely to contribute “significantly” to public understanding of government operations or activities. The public's understanding of the subject in question, as compared to the level of public understanding existing prior to the disclosure, must be enhanced by the disclosure to a significant extent. The Agency will not make value judgments about whether information that would contribute significantly to public understanding of the operations or activities of the government is “important” enough to be made public.
(3) To determine whether the request meets the second fee waiver requirement, the Agency will consider the following factors:
(i) The existence and magnitude of a commercial interest. Whether the requester has a commercial interest that would be furthered by the requested disclosure. The Agency will consider any commercial interest of the requester (with reference to the definition of “commercial use request” in paragraph (b)(1) of this section), or of any person on whose behalf the requester may be acting, that would be furthered by the requested disclosure. The Agency will give the requester an opportunity in the administrative process to provide explanatory information regarding this consideration.
(ii) The primary interest in disclosure. Whether any identified commercial interest of the requester is sufficiently large, in comparison with the public interest in disclosure, that disclosure is “primarily in the commercial interest of the requester.” A fee waiver or reduction is justified where the public interest standard is satisfied and that public interest is greater in magnitude than that of any identified commercial interest in disclosure. The Agency ordinarily will presume that when a news media requester has satisfied the public interest standard, the public interest will be the interest primarily served by disclosure to that requester. The Agency will not presume that disclosure to data brokers or others who merely compile and market government information for direct economic return is to primarily serve the public interest.
(4) When only some of the requested records satisfy the requirements for a waiver of fees, the Agency will grant a waiver for only those records.
(5) Requests for the waiver or reduction of fees must address the factors listed in paragraphs (k)(l) through (3) of this section, as far as they apply to each request. Offices will exercise their discretion to consider the cost-effectiveness of their investment of administrative resources in deciding whether to grant waivers or reductions of fees and will consult the appropriate EPA offices as needed. Requesters must submit requests for the waiver or reduction of fees along with the request.
(6) When the EPA denies a fee waiver request, EPA will do no further work on the request until it receives an assurance of payment from the requester, or until the requester appeals the fee waiver adverse determination and the EPA completes its final appeal determination pursuant to § 2.104(j).