New Chief of EPA Region 9 Has Deep Ties to Industry

 (Craig Miller/KQED)

Is there any way that California, generally in the vanguard on environmental issues, is not going to clash with the Trump administration's new Environmental Protection Agency chief for Region 9?

Michael Stoker is a Republican from Central California who served as a Santa Barbara County supervisor from 1986 to 1994. He also served as chairman of the California Agricultural Labor Relations Board and served for two years as California deputy secretary of state, from 2000 to 2002. In more recent years he's worked as a lawyer for the agricultural industry and as a spokesman for an oil and gas company.

Stoker has run unsuccessfully for Congress and the California Legislature. He was a Trump delegate to the 2016 Republican National Convention and has been credited with starting the “lock her up” chant referring to Hillary Clinton.

Stoker has taken reliably pro-industry stances in the past, says Nick Welsh, managing editor of the Santa Barbara Independent, who has known Stoker for about 30 years. As a county supervisor, Stoker argued against a ballot measure that would have puts limits on offshore oil drilling. The general feeling among Santa Barbara residents is, says Welsh: "If you don’t like what the EPA is doing and think government should have less reach, he’s the guy for the job."

As chief of Region 9, which is EPA's Pacific Southwest office, Stoker is in charge of enforcing federal environmental laws throughout California, Arizona, Hawaii, Nevada, the Pacific Islands, and about 150 Native American tribes. While he will not be in a position of setting policy, he will set the tone for how thoroughly his office of 700 EPA staffers presses polluters to comply with regulations. Regional EPA offices also help states in meeting their climate goals, provide technical input to large development projects and offer grants to local governments and organizations.

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For example, in the last few weeks, EPA Region 9 has organized trainings to teach low-income contractors and construction workers how to reduce lead exposure during renovations. In early May, it awarded $13 million to air districts in the San Joaquin Valley and South Coast to replace heavily polluting buses with zero- or low-emissions models.

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The office is headquartered in San Francisco. It is not clear, however, if Stoker will move to the City by the Bay. According to a report by the Los Angeles Times, stoker intends to lead from a small satellite office near L.A.

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