MDE PIA FAQs

MDE Guide for PIA Information Requesters

What is the Public Information Act?

Maryland's Public Information Act (PIA), enacted in 1970, grants the public a broad right of access to public records while protecting legitimate governmental interests and the privacy rights of individual citizens. The PIA covers public agencies and officials in Maryland and includes all branches of state government (legislative, judicial, and executive). The PIA is similar in purpose to the federal Freedom of Information Act (FOIA).

What is a Public Record?

A public record is defined as the original or copy of any documentary material in any form, to include written materials, books, photographs, photocopies, films, microfilms, records, tapes, computerized records, maps and drawings created or received by the Department in connection with the transaction of public business.

Who can submit a PIA request?

Anyone -- citizens, corporations, associations, public interest groups, private individuals, and universities.

Can I have access to all MDE records?

The PIA provides for access to most Agency records. Certain records are privileged by law and must be withheld. Examples include, but are not limited to records containing attorney-client advice and attorney work product; medical records; personnel records; trade secrets and confidential commercial or financial information.

Other records may be withheld. Examples include, but are not limited to, investigatory records and inter and intra-agency memoranda and letters. If you are denied access to any MDE records, you will be notified as to the specific statutory provisions for each exemption and for challenging the denial procedures.

You will also be notified if files have been lost or destroyed in accordance with MDE's filing and retention schedules.

Are there fees related to the Public Information Act?

  • The fees described in this section apply to PIA requests. Fees may not be used to discourage requesters, and to this end, PIA fees are limited to standard charges for direct document search, review, and duplication. Also, the PIA specifies that requesters receive the first two hours of search time without charge.
  • The term "direct costs" means those expenditures the Department actually makes in searching for, reviewing, and duplicating documents to respond to a PIA request. Direct costs include, for example, the costs of the employees performing the work and the costs of operating duplicating machinery. Not included in direct costs are overhead expenses such as costs of space, heating, or lighting the facility in which the records are stored.
  • The term "search" includes all time spent looking, both manually and electronically, for material that is responsive to a request. Search also includes a line-by-line or page-by-page identification (if necessary) of material in the record to determine if it, or portions thereof are responsive to the request. Time spent reviewing documents in order to determine whether to apply a statutory exemption is not search time, but review time.
  • The term "duplication" refers to the process of making a copy of a document in response to a PIA request. Such copies can take the form of paper copy, audiovisual, or machine-readable documentation (e.g., magnetic tape or disc), among others. The Department will provide copies in the same format as kept within the Department unless otherwise specified by the requester.
  • The term "review" refers to the process of examining documents located in response to a PIA request to determine whether one or more of the statutory exemptions permit withholding. It also includes the processing of documents for disclosure, such as excising them for release. Review does not include time spent resolving general legal or policy issues regarding the application of exemptions.
  • In order to be as responsive as possible to PIA requests while minimizing unwarranted costs to the taxpayer, requesters should submit a fee declaration.
  • Fee declarations should include the maximum amount a requester is willing to pay for the requested records (e.g., all costs up to $100). Unless the requester has indicated in advance a willingness to pay fees which will cover the Department's estimate of the cost to produce the requested records, the Department will notify the requester if fees are likely to exceed $25. A written copy of an estimate of assessable fees can be provided if desired by the requester before committing to a willingness to pay.
  • The Department will make every effort to accurately estimate the costs associated with the request. However, the Department is not bound by the estimate and may charge fees which exceed the estimate. The requester will be provided with justification for the fees. Advance payment of fees is not required unless the requester has previously failed to pay fees in a timely fashion. For estimates in excess of $250, the Department requires satisfactory assurance of full payment before fulfilling the request.
     

Fee Waivers:

Requests for a fee waiver or reduction in fees should be submitted in writing to the Department. The Department may grant a fee waiver if the Department determines that a fee waiver is in the best interest of the public. A fee waiver will not be granted if it is primarily in the commercial interest of the requester.

Decisions to waive or reduce fees are made on a case-by-case basis. A determination pursuant to §10-621 of the State Government Article on a request for a fee waiver is within the discretion of the Department. State law does not provide a right to a contested hearing or other agency adjudication on this decision.

Aggregating Requests:

Multiple requests from the same or a related entity may be aggregated, at the discretion of the Department, for purposes of conducting the search and/or determining applicable fees where:

The Department reasonably believes that a requester (or group of requesters) is attempting to break a request down into a series of requests for the purpose of avoiding the assessment of fees.

The Department believes that the combination of multiple requests, either in whole or in part, promotes administrative efficiency in the handling of the requests. For example, where a single database must be searched for multiple locations.

However, the Department will not normally aggregate multiple requests on unrelated subjects from one requester. The requester will be informed of the aggregation only if under the Department's guidelines, the requester is to be informed of the expected costs prior to the execution of the search.

Collection of Fees:

Collection of fees will typically be made via regular invoicing after the documents have been provided to the requester or recipient. Fees will be collected in advance if the requester has failed on previous occasions to pay fees within 30 days from the date of billing. Satisfactory assurance of full payment is required when the estimated cost of the fee is in excess of $250, as discussed above.

Search & Review Time, Grade, and Hourly Rate ($):

Position Type Salary Grade Hourly Rate
Clerical Grade 7 and lower $10
Administrative Grades 8-12 $15
Professional Grades 12-18 $22
Management Grades 19-21 $31
Executive Grades 22 and above $40

Computer Search

Fee assessments for computer searches consist of two parts: Individual time charged at the above rates and machine time. Machine time involves only the direct costs of the CPU, input/output devices, and memory capacity used in the actual computer configuration. Machine time calculations are therefore calculated per request.
 

Duplication Cost Per Page:
 

Office Copy (time + materials)

Certified True Office Copies

Oversized Documents (e.g.,
blueprints)

Pre-printed material

Computer Copies

36¢

47¢

$2.00


.02¢ per page or established price

Actual cost of (tapes, diskettes, or printout)

Duplicating the tape, diskette, or printout (includes operation’s time + cost of medium)


 

Postage:
 

First Class Letter


Approx. 25 pages

Approx. 50 pages

Approx. 75-100 pages

Other First Class Mail

Actual cost of postage as established by the U.S. Postal Service

Currently $1.25

Currently $2.15

Currently $3.00

Actual Cost of postage as established by the US Postal Service


 

Other Records:

Search costs are computed using the rates listed above. Duplication cost is the actual cost of reproducing the material, including the wage of the person doing the work.

Costs for Special Services:

While there is no obligation for the Department to generate records to satisfy a PIA request, the Department may, at its discretion, do so only after agreement has been obtained in writing from the requester to pay for the special service. The decision to provide special services will be made on a case-by-case basis.

Fees for special services are computed to recover all reasonable costs to the State government rendering the service. All reasonable costs include all direct costs (as defined above) plus all indirect costs to conduct the search and review, and to duplicate the records (for requests to generate records or technical data). Indirect costs for special services will be calculated using the Department’s negotiated federal indirect rate in effect at the time of the request.

What kind of records does MDE have and whom do I contact for information?

If your request covers more than one administration or program, please contact:

Amanda Degen, PIA Coordinator
Maryland Department of the Environment
1800 Washington Blvd.
Baltimore MD 21230
Phone: (410) 537-4120
FAX: (410) 537-3998

E-Mail address: Amanda.Degen@maryland.gov

If your request is exclusive to one administration or program, you may directly contact that administration's PIA Liaison. Send your request to the attention of the PIA Liaison and mail to:

Maryland Department of the Environment
1800 Washington Blvd.
Baltimore MD 21230

Click here for a chart that will give you contact numbers and a sample of topics by administration. It is not all-inclusive. Check MDE's Customer Service Directory for a more detailed listing of programs.

*MDE's Community Right-To-Know Section provides public access to information submitted to MDE by Maryland businesses under the federal Emergency Planning and Community Right-to-Know Act (EPCRA), also known as SARA Title III. The information consists of annual hazardous chemical inventory reports and toxic chemical release inventory reports (TRI). The Community Right-to-Know Section also maintains Chemical Information Lists submitted by Maryland employers as part of their Employee Right-to-Know program. Maryland law allows limited public access to those lists. Contact the Community Right-to-Know Program for information concerning specific requirements for requesting information for this program at (410) 537-3800 or E-Mail a message to Patricia Williams at Patricia.Williams1@maryland.gov.

What information do I need to provide when requesting records?

Identification of the record(s) desired is the responsibility of the requester. To provide you with the best possible service, MDE asks that you provide specific information concerning the record(s) in which you are interested. You should be specific about the type of record(s) you are seeking (e.g., file-related information, event-related information, etc), including the name of the facility, site address including zip code, subject area, date the record was created, permit number if known, and originator. Most frequently requested records are maintained by site and MDE will be able to locate the record with a reasonable amount of effort if the site address is specified. In order to assist MDE in conducting timely searches for records, requesters should provide as much identifying information as possible.

Can MDE search its files by zip code, map coordinates, or tax map notations?

Not at this time. Generally, MDE's files are site-specific, and a complete street address is needed to process requests for records.

Can MDE write, generate or create reports and lists under the Public Information Act?

The information which is covered under the PIA is only that information which is in existence at the time of the request. For example, if you request a list of companies with a particular type of permit, and if such a list exists, it will be made available under the PIA. Requests to write, generate or create reports or lists, however, are not covered under the PIA but are instead considered a special service. If MDE determines that a PIA request is actually a special service request, the requester will be notified. Complying with requests for special services is at the discretion of the Department. Neither the PIA nor its fee structure cover these kinds of services. The Department will typically provide special services only after agreement has been obtained in writing from the requester to pay for the special service.

How does the PIA process at MDE work?

When MDE receives your request, it is logged and assigned a unique identifying number. You will receive a letter acknowledging receipt of your request. The request is reviewed and distributed to all appropriate programs. After each program completes the search, you will be notified by mail as to whether or not pertinent records exist. We are unable to give you status reports on your request until our search is complete and you receive our notification letter.

Once you receive MDE's notification letter, which indicates that pertinent records exist, you should then contact the appropriate PIA Liaison(s) to schedule an appointment for a file review. Because MDE's files are predominantly "working" files the files you have requested will remain in the programs until the day of your appointment. Because of the time required to search, gather, and prepare files, walk-in requests cannot be accommodated.

Can I submit my request electronically?

You now have two electronic options for submitting a PIA request:

a. Use the on-line request form and submit on-line; or

b. Send an E-Mail message to MDE.PIA@maryland.gov.

Whichever option you choose, be sure to include all pertinent information.

Can I visit MDE and review records?

Yes. After receiving notification of the availability of records, you are invited to schedule a file review with the appropriate PIA Liaison.

Can I get copies of records?

  • Yes. During your file review, you may identify documents you wish to have copied. MDE staff will arrange for the copying to take place. For obvious reasons, the documents must remain under the control of the Department so we cannot allow requesters to take files with them to make copies. Generally, the requester must personally review files before copies are made.
  • Copies of records will be provided in the form or format requested, only if the records are readily reproducible in that form or format. However, there are charges associated with obtaining copies of records. Currently, the first two hours of search and preparation for requested records are free. Subsequent hours of search and preparation are charged according to MDE's fee schedule.
  • If you wish to have an entire file copied, MDE staff will provide you with a cost estimate if the cost is likely to exceed $25.00. After your confirmation that this cost is acceptable, the documents will be reproduced. This may be done via telephone, but entire files will not be copied without the consent of the requester to pay the estimated cost of reproduction.

Can MDE waive the fees?

Requests for a fee waiver or reduction in fees should be submitted in writing to the Department. The Department may grant a fee waiver if the Department determines that a fee waiver is in the best interest of the public. A fee waiver will not be granted if it is primarily in the commercial interest of the requester.

Decisions to waive or reduce fees are made on a case-by-case basis. A determination pursuant to §10-621 of the State Government Article on a request for a fee waiver is within the discretion of the Department. State law does not provide a right to a contested hearing or other agency adjudication on this decision.

How long does it take after MDE receives my written request to arrange a file review?

MDE will acknowledge your request by mail within 10 days of receipt.

Where can I learn more about the Public Information Act?

The PIA can be found in §§ 10-611 to 10-628 of the State Government Article which is an article within the Maryland Annotated Code. You can see the Maryland Annotated Code at your local public library.​​