Requesting Fee Waivers
Any FOIA requester may request that EPA waive all fees associated with the request. The request for the fee waiver must be submitted with the FOIA request. (See EPA's Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) regulations at 40 C.F.R. § 2.107 which describes the process and standards EPA uses to review fee waiver requests.)
Upon receipt of a fee waiver request, the FOIA Office will send a letter to the requester seeking information on six factors. The FOIA Office will grant a fee waiver request if the requester adequately shows, based on all available information, that (1) 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 (2) is not primarily in the commercial interest of the requester. The FOIA Office considers fee waiver requests on a case-by-case basis, because EPA is not allowed to give fee waivers to requesters on a class basis.
Factor 1. 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.
Factor 2. 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.
Factor 3. The contribution to an understanding of the subject by the public is likely to result from 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. A requester's expertise in the subject area and ability and intention to effectively convey information to the public will be considered. It will be presumed that a representative of the news media will satisfy this consideration.
Factor 4. 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 significantly by the disclosure. The FOI Office 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.
Factor 5. The existence and magnitude of a commercial interest: Whether the requester has a commercial interest that would be furthered by the requested disclosure. The FOI Office will consider any commercial interest of the requester or of any person on whose behalf the requester may be acting, that would be furthered by the requested disclosure. Requesters will be given an opportunity in the administrative process to provide explanatory information regarding this consideration.
Factor 6. 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. FOI Offices 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. Disclosure to data brokers or others who merely compile and market government information for direct economic return will not be presumed to primarily serve the public interest.
Department of Justice's fee waiver guidance: http://www.justice.gov/oip/foia_updates/Vol_VIII_1/viii1page2.htm