Trump appoints new EPA head in SF who led 'Lock her up' chants against Clinton
Posted May 18, 2018 7:35 p.m. EDT
SAN FRANCISCO -- A Santa Barbara County attorney who has fought for farmers and fossil fuels and led the ``Lock Her Up'' chants in opposition to Hillary Clinton was appointed by the Trump administration Friday to head the Environmental Protection Agency's Pacific Southwest office in San Francisco.
The appointment of Mike Stoker, a former county supervisor and GOP stalwart, infuriated environmentalists and further annoyed Bay Area Democrats and San Francisco power brokers reeling from what they view as assaults by the administration on environmental policies.
Stoker, 62, will oversee hundreds of scientists, enforcement officers and employees in charge of promoting clean air, clean water and public health in EPA Region 9, which covers California, Arizona, Nevada and Hawaii.
``Mike Stoker is highly qualified and well-equipped to lead Region 9,'' said Scott Pruitt, the EPA administrator, who has overseen major staffing cuts nationwide and believes the agency has overstepped its congressional mandate, particularly with regard to limitations on heat-trapping greenhouse gases. ``Through his public service and career in law, he understands the environmental challenges facing the region and will bring a wealth of experience and expertise to EPA.''
It was not clear Friday whether Stoker, who expressed a reluctance to move to San Francisco, would work out of the agency's headquarters in the liberal enclave, which has not had a permanent director since Jared Blumenfeld stepped down in May 2016.
His reluctance is thought to be at least partly because of the difficulty a newcomer will face in advancing President Trump's deregulatory agenda in a hostile city.
Stoker's apparent plan to work out of the Los Angeles office prompted Sen. Dianne Feinstein to write Pruitt on Thursday, saying she is ``particularly troubled'' by the potential cost to taxpayers of an ``absentee'' administrator.
Jahan Wilcox, the EPA spokesman, would only say, ``Mike Stoker's duty station is San Francisco.''
Business and industry leaders supported the hire.
``To grow jobs in California, we need balance between our important environmental needs and diverse economy,'' said Robert Lapsley, the president of the California Business Roundtable, which is made up of the senior executives at large businesses around the state. ``His qualifications as an agricultural law attorney, with an emphasis in environmental law, combined with his decades of experience as an appointed and elected policymaker ... will serve California well.''
It is not a bipartisan view. Stoker secured the undying enmity of liberals for leading the ``Lock Her Up'' chant in opposition to Clinton at the 2016 National Republican Convention.
``He is a perfect fit for Trump but not for California,'' said Blumenfeld, the former administrator. ``For all the dedicated, professional staff at EPA, doing our job just got more difficult and more heroic.''
Stoker will now wade head-first into several environmental conflicts between California and Pruitt, including a skirmish over whether the state can maintain stricter vehicle fuel standards than the rest of the nation.
The new director will also assume management of an office where employees have complained of low morale. Many scientists, policymakers and enforcement officials claim to have been derailed from their mission of environmental protection as the Trump administration has sought to loosen what it views as overly restrictive regulatory policies on American business.
Stoker's questioning of the scientific consensus on climate change and his previous work at a fossil fuel company that was prosecuted by the EPA and California Department of Fish and Wildlife for a series of oils spills has not fostered confidence among environmental leaders.
``Michael Stoker was a mouthpiece for one of the most reckless and spill-prone oil companies in the nation,'' said Kassie Siegel, director of the Center for Biological Diversity's Climate Law Institute. ``He'll be a convenient foot soldier for Trump's polluter-friendly EPA, and the people and wildlife of the Pacific Southwest will suffer for it.''
Stoker, who lives in Carpinteria (Santa Barbara County), has long been active in local and state politics. After being on the Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors from 1986 to 1994, the registered Republican served a five-year stint as chairman of the California Agricultural Labor Relations Board under Gov. Pete Wilson and worked as deputy secretary of state for three years under Bill Jones.
He launched campaigns for state Senate, state Assembly and Congress, all unsuccessful.
He's also run a law office on and off in Santa Barbara County since 1980, offering legal counsel and consulting on government, land use and business.
In the late 2000s, Stoker worked as a spokesman for the fossil fuel company Greka Energy, which federal and state agencies accused of spilling oil 21 times and polluting county water and lands, a suit it eventually settled. At the time, Stoker criticized many of the charges as government overreach.
Burdensome regulation has long been a concern for Stoker. More recently on Facebook, he weighed in on the case of Central Valley farmer John Duarte, who was fined for plowing over protected wetlands, a citation that become a rallying point for conservatives worried about losing property rights.
``Unbelievable but this zealousness by state and federal regulators happens all the time unfortunately,'' Stoker wrote.
He recently worked as director of governmental affairs for UnitedAg, a trade association that seeks to protect farmers and has often fought against environmental restrictions.
Stoker, who served as a delegate for then-candidate Donald Trump at the 2016 Republican convention, had been eyed by the president for other administration posts before being selected regional EPA director. In January, he was nominated to be director of the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service, but never confirmed, and last year he was reportedly under consideration for an opening on the National Labor Relations Board.
He fills a post that Pruitt has had an exceedingly difficult time filling. At least two preferred candidates -- including Ryan Flynn, an oil and gas lobbyist in New Mexico -- refused to take over an office in a left-leaning region populated by employees considered to be largely hostile to the administration's views.
Ken Cook, the president of the Environmental Working Group, said the previous hiring difficulties may be why the embattled Pruitt was willing to hire Stoker despite his desire to oversee 702 employees in San Francsisco from a Los Angeles satellite office.
``That he doesn't even want to face EPA employees who've spent their careers protecting public health, speaks volumes about what we can expect from his leadership,'' Cook said.