Former local elected official and head of the Environmental Protection Agency’s Pacific Southwest Region Mike Stoker was dismissed from his duties Wednesday, later saying there were “too many clashes” with leadership.
The 63-year-old Carpinteria resident was hired in May 2018 as the head of what is known as Region 9, which includes California, Nevada, Arizona, Hawaii and the Pacific islands. EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler issued an internal memo Wednesday evening thanking Mr. Stoker for his service to the EPA. Mr. Stoker, whose departure was first reported by BuzzFeed News, confirmed to the News-Press that he had left the federal agency via text, but several phone calls were not returned by deadline.
In a letter to Region 9 staff, Mr. Stoker said he received a call at 8 a.m. Wednesday “advising me that I either needed to tender my resignation or I would be terminated by the close of business.
“Within minutes my EPA phone and laptop were disabled,” Mr. Stoker wrote.
He then thanked the Region 9 staff for their professionalism and passion before citing ‘a lot of specific situations’ for his removal, but did not provide further details.
“So why did the Wednesday morning call occur? There are a lot of specific situations that someday I will reveal but that day will not occur while the President is still in office. I was appointed by the President and I remain loyal to the President,” Mr. Stoker wrote.
“Generally speaking I will say I believe too many clashes between myself and leadership in HQ over policy and non-policy items (when I was given advance notice which often was not the case) ultimately played a significant role in the call,” he added.
Just three weeks ago, Mr. Stoker wrote that he was informed by someone within leadership, who he declined to name, who said “it wasn’t going unnoticed how many Democrat members in Congress were commending me for the job I was doing,” Mr. Stoker wrote. “Bottom line I am proud of the work I’ve done and I am especially proud that both Democrat and Republican lawmakers have applauded my efforts. After all, last time I checked, the EPA’s mission to protect the public health and environment is not a partisan issue…at least it never has been for me.”
Before thanking his staff and wishing them luck in the future, Mr. Stoker said he felt his ousting was personal.
“So your guess as to why the call came is as good as mine,” he wrote. “Other than what I’ve already stated I haven’t a clue. In fact, when I asked for the reason for the termination there was a long pause and was only told it wasn’t personal. Frankly I have a gut feeling it is and was 100% personal.”
Deborah Johnson, a 30-year employee of the EPA who has served as assistant regional administrator in San Francisco since 2016, is expected to be named new acting regional administrator.
During his time with the EPA, Mr. Stoker had been criticized for attempting to oversee employees stationed in San Francisco from Los Angeles. Some 93% of the 663 employees within Region 9 were stationed in San Francisco. He petitioned to have his duty station changed to Los Angeles, a request that was later granted.
In March 2019, the EPA’s Office of the Inspector General investigated a “hotline complaint” about how much time Mr. Stoker was spending away from San Francisco. The office then issued a “Management Alert” that documented how Mr. Stoker spent $43,875 in taxpayer funds on 35 separate trips between May 2018 and February 2019. The report found he spent only 30 out of 145 workdays in San Francisco.
Prior to joining the EPA, Mr. Stoker was the director of government affairs for UnitedAg, one of the states largest agricultural associations. He also served as a member of the Santa Barbara County Supervisors from 1986-1994, chairman of the California Agricultural Labor Relations Board from 1995-2000 and California deputy secretary of state from 2000 to 2002.
More recently, Mr. Stoker is known as the person behind the “lock her up” chants in opposition to Hillary Clinton.