Regional EPA Chief Who Faced Criticism for Excessive Travel Suddenly Leaves Job

1 min
Mike Stoker addresses an Arizona audience about the Navigable Waters Protection Rule on Jan. 23, 2020.  (Los Angeles District U.S. Army Corps of Engineers)

The top regulator for the federal Environmental Protection Agency’s regional office in San Francisco left that job Wednesday without an explanation.

As EPA's Region 9 administrator, Mike Stoker supervised environmental enforcement in California, Nevada, Arizona, Hawaii, the Pacific Islands and 148 tribes.

Molly Block, a spokeswoman for the EPA, confirmed in an email that Stoker is “no longer with the Agency.” She did not elaborate on the reason for his departure.

Deb Jordan is the acting regional administrator, Block added.

Jordan is a 30-year EPA employee. She’s worked as an assistant regional administrator in San Francisco since 2016, the San Francisco Chronicle reported.

Sponsored

From the get-go, elected officials and environmentalists criticized Stoker as the Trump administration’s choice  to run the regulatory office. He publicly doubted the scientific consensus around man-made climate change and had previous ties to the oil and gas industry.

“Californians will not miss Mike Stoker, a climate skeptic and former oil lobbyist who spent tens of thousands of dollars on taxpayer-funded travel,” Rep. Anna Eshoo, of Palo Alto,  said in an emailed statement. “My constituents and all Californians need an EPA administrator who day in and day out is dedicated to promoting clean air, clean water and addressing climate change."

Environmentalists protested his appointment when he took the job in 2018, and celebrated his abrupt dismissal less than two years later.

“Stoker’s departure is good news, but this oil industry ally should never have been in charge of protecting our environment,” said Kassie Siegel of the Center for Biological Diversity.

On the job, he received fierce criticism from EPA lawyers, watchdog groups and Sen. Dianne Feinstein for managing a San Francisco-based staff of hundreds from his home city of Los Angeles.

Last March, the EPA’s  inspector general documented what it called a pattern of Stoker’s taxpayer-funded travel.

From the San Francisco Chronicle story:

“In March 2019, the EPA’s Office of the Inspector General investigated a ‘hotline complaint’ about how much time Stoker was spending away from San Francisco and ‘his excessive number of trips.’

The office issued a ‘Management Alert’ that documented how he spent $43,875 in taxpayer funds on 35 separate trips between May 2018 and February 2019, including two trips to Hawaii, one to Japan and another to Saipan, in the Mariana Islands. The report, which did not reach any conclusions about the propriety of his travel, said he spent only 30 out of 145 workdays in San Francisco.”

Shortly after he became the region’s top EPA regulator, Stoker told KQED’s Danielle Venton that his priority was to clean up sewage at the border between the U.S. and Mexico.

At the time, he told KQED’s Venton that he doubted the scientific consensus on anthropogenic climate change. He did add that he supported “anything that reduces carbon emissions because that’s good for everyone.

"I personally believe there's questions on how much of it is man-made and how much of it is caused by Mother Nature and I have my personal feelings on global warming," he said. "The whole global warming debate is a debate for Washington DC, and whatever they tell me is what I implement."

In response to Stoker's departure, the Center for Biological Diversity's Siegel said, “He accomplished virtually nothing at the EPA besides helping oil companies get permission to pollute California aquifers and alienating agency staff who actually care about our planet."

She added, “the fact that Stoker lasted this long highlights the Trump administration’s utter contempt for the air we breathe and the water we drink.”

From Washington, the environmental agency’s administrator Andrew Wheeler thanked Stoker “for his service to the EPA” and wished “him and his family the best in their future endeavors,” the Chronicle reported.

Stoker’s Background

Stoker is a Republican from Central California who served as a Santa Barbara County supervisor from 1986 to 1994.

He also was chairman of the California Agricultural Labor Relations Board and he spent two years as California deputy secretary of state, from 2000 to 2002. Afterward, he 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 reportedly been credited with starting the “lock her up” chant about Hillary Clinton.

Stoker has taken reliably pro-industry stances in the past, Nick Welsh, managing editor of the Santa Barbara Independent, told Venton. He has known Stoker for about 30 years.

As a county supervisor, Stoker argued against a ballot measure that would have placed  limits on offshore oil drilling.