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Trump’s regional EPA chief in California is suddenly removed from his job

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency headquarters in Washington, D.C.
Mike Stoker is leaving as administrator for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s region 9, which includes California, Arizona, Nevada, Hawaii and the Pacific islands.
(Gary Kazanjian/AP)

The Environmental Protection Agency’s top official in California was abruptly removed from office Wednesday.

No reason has yet been given for Mike Stoker’s dismissal.

In an email sent to staff members of the environment agency’s Pacific Southwest regional office, EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler wrote, “I would like to thank Mike Stoker for his service to the EPA.”

He then added, “I wish him and his family the best in their future endeavors.”

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Deborah Jordan, the region’s deputy administrator, will take over as acting head of Region 9, which includes California, Nevada, Arizona, Hawaii, the Pacific Island Territories and 148 Indian tribes. She has been deputy administrator since 2016. Before that, she worked on Clean Air Act regulatory matters for both EPA headquarters and Region 9.

The dismissal was first reported Wednesday evening by BuzzFeed News on Twitter.

Stoker’s tenure was mired in controversy. In 2018, a few months after he was appointed regional administrator, a “hotline” complaint was filed with the EPA’s inspector general regarding his infrequent visits to the region’s main office, in San Francisco.

In March 2019, the EPA’s inspector general issued a “management alert.” It showed that Stoker spent only 20-percent of his time in San Francisco, where 90 percent of the staff is based.

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Three weeks later, according to reports from E&E News, EPA Chief of Staff Ryan Jackson instituted a year-long “pilot program,” allowing Stoker to switch his duty base from San Francisco to Los Angeles.

“The reason for Mike Stoker’s abrupt removal is a mystery to the Region 9 employees we are talking to and, they believe, a mystery to Mr. Stoker himself,” said Jeff Ruch, director of the Pacific region of Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, an advocacy organization for government employees working on environmental issues.

“Given the long time it took to fill this Regional Administrator slot and the tendency of the current administration to leave top positions vacant, it is likely that he will not be replaced,” he said.

Serge Dedina, mayor of Imperial Beach, said Stoker was a champion for his city and the clean up of the Tijuana River.

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“From day one, he made clear it was a priority,” said Dedina, describing Stoker a “beach guy” who had an appreciation for the coastline and estuaries of Southern California. “I’ll always be grateful to him.”

EPA spokesman, Michael Abboud, confirmed Stoker’s removal but declined to say more. Stoker could not be reached for comment.

Before taking the regional administrator job, Stoker served as director of government affairs for UnitedAg, one of California’s largest agricultural associations. According to his EPA biography, he was also a member of Santa Barbara County’s Board of Supervisors from 1986-1994, chairman of the California Agricultural Labor Relations Board from 1995-2000, and California deputy secretary of state from 2000-2002.

Stoker was a supporter of former EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt before Pruitt resigned amid numerous controversies in 2018. At the time, Stoker called Pruitt’s resignation “definitely a little bit different.”

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“I’ve been around politics long enough that nothing is a surprise,” he said of Pruitt’s departure.


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