Freedom of Information Act (FOIA)

Learn about FOIA

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The Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) gives the public the right to make a request for federal agency records. EPA and all other federal agencies are required to disclose records unless the records are protected from disclosure by:

FOIA does not require agencies responding to requests to:

  • conduct research,
  • analyze data,
  • answer written questions, or
  • create records. 

EPA's FOIA regulations are located in the Code of Federal Regulations at Title 40, Part 2.

Sources to Check Before You Submit a FOIA Request

The first place you should look for FOIA Requests is FOIAonline.

EPA's national office is located in Washington D.C. and there are ten Regional FOIA offices in major metropolitan areas across the country. If you see a record that deals with a specific site and that EPA might possess, you should address your request to the EPA Regional FOIA Office that covers the state in which the site is located.

You may find that the information that you are seeking is already available on EPA’s website. Before making a FOIA request, you should browse EPA's home page and list of topics for information that is already available to the public. You may also wish to check records previously released by the agency in response to a FOIA request by searching FOIAonline, EPA's FOIA management and repository system.

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Presumption of Openness

Agencies are directed to apply a presumption of openness in responding to FOIA requests.  The attorney general specifically called on agencies not to withhold information just because it technically falls within an exemption and encouraged agencies to make discretionary releases of records.  EPA applies the presumption of openness when reviewing records responsive to a FOIA request. FOIA memoranda are available on the Resources page. 

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Freedom of Information Act Exemptions

The Freedom of Information Act gives any person the right to access federal agency records except when the records, or portion of the records, are protected from public disclosure by a FOIA exemption.  There are nine FOIA exemptions:

  1. Classified national defense and foreign relations information.
  2. Internal agency rules and practices.
  3. Information that is prohibited from disclosure by another federal law.
  4. Trade secrets and other confidential business information.
  5. Inter-agency or intra-agency communications that are protected by legal privileges.
  6. Information involving matters of personal privacy (protected under the Privacy Act or containing sensitive personally identifiable information).
  7. Information compiled for law enforcement purposes, to the extent that the production of those records:
    1. Could reasonably be expected to interfere with enforcement proceedings.
    2. Would deprive a person of a right to a fair trial or an impartial adjudication.
    3. Could reasonably be expected to constitute an unwarranted invasion of personal privacy.
    4. Could reasonably be expected to disclose the identity of a confidential source.
    5. Would disclose techniques and procedures for law enforcement, investigations or prosecutions, or would disclose guidelines for law enforcement investigations or prosecutions.
    6. Could reasonably be expected to endanger the life or physical safety of any individual.
  8. Information relating to the supervision of financial institutions.
  9. Geological information on wells.

Learn more about FOIA exemptions in the U.S. Department of Justice Guide to the Freedom of Information Act.

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