It didn’t take long for home girl Kelsey Brugger to start breaking news in her brand-new Beltway gig:
Days after arriving in Our Nation’s Capitol, the erstwhile Indy reporter is out with a piece in E&E News revealing that Republican former SB Supervisor Mike Stoker is about to be named as the powerful regional administrator of the EPA, overseeing California and other Western states.
At a time when the state is locked into legal and political combat with the Trump Administration, the EPA appointment would put Santa Barbara’s Stoker squarely in the middle of the most far-reaching, if not existential, environmental battles in the nation. Most recently, the state sued Trumpkins over the EPA’s proposed rollback of California's tougher-than-national fuel economy standards.
In an email exchange with Newsmakers, Stoker refused to comment on the E&E report of his impending ascension, thus exhibiting the political street smarts not to get out ahead of the official announcement from his about-to-be bosses in Trump Town.
Kelsey’s reporting rests on “multiple sources” who attended a fundraiser last weekend for COLAB, where Andy Caldwell, the, um, irrepressible executive director of the conservative organization, spilled the beans. From her yarn:
At an annual event in Santa Barbara County on Saturday night, the emcee announced Stoker would be appointed to the Region 9 post this week, multiple sources told E&E News. Stoker is well known among the several hundred farmers and businesspeople who attended the event, a fundraiser for the Coalition of Labor, Agriculture and Business (COLAB).
"Region 9 administrator is going to be appointed that runs the EPA in the states of Hawaii, California, Arizona and Nevada," said Andy Caldwell, executive director of COLAB. Caldwell told the crowd that the news was "embargoed" until tomorrow, when a press release about the appointment is expected to be sent out, the sources said.
Caldwell continued: "Judge [Timothy] Staffel [of Santa Barbara Superior Court] is here tonight because we were going to have him swear this person in because he is near and dear to our hearts. But Washington delayed us by about three days. I can't tell you who it is, but I can tell you he was a former county supervisor and he is going to be the Region 9 director for Hawaii, California, Arizona and Nevada. Mike Stoker, does any of that sound right?"
Trip down memory lane. Stoker has been a player in local and state politics for decades, beginning in 1986, when he won the first of two terms as a supe. As an appointee of former GOP Governor Pete Wilson, he also wielded influence over agriculture and environmental issues as chairman of the state’s Agricultural Labor Relations Board. He ran and lost several campaigns to the Legislature, most recently in 2012, when he was thumped. by state Senator Hannah Beth Jackson.
At the 2016 Republican National Convention, he achieved the dubious, at least among local progressives and enviros, of creating the “Lock Her Up” chant that became a staple of Trump’s Hillary Clinton bashing during the bitter campaign.
Why it matters: This just in, from Kelsey:
If appointed for the Region 9 job, Stoker would take the helm of the office that oversees more than 700 EPA staffers throughout California, Arizona, Hawaii, Nevada, the Pacific Islands and about 150 Native American tribes.
The post has been vacant for more than a year — much longer than at any other EPA regional office.
He would also immediately jump into the fray as EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt battles California officials over environmental deregulatory efforts. The Trump EPA is sparring with the state over climate rules for automobiles.
In her story for the Energy and Environment newswire, Kelsey recalled Stoker’s work for the notoriously abysmal Greka Oil & Gas Inc., which several years ago was forced to pay Santa Barbara County $2 million in fines after numerous spills and safety violations. She cited a comment from an EPA Superfund official, who said the outfit, was the “worst oil company I’ve ever seen.”
In the past, Stoker has bristled at what he believes is unfair criticism of his role in the Greka mess.
Stoker previously has said he worked for several years as a consultant to help bring Greka into compliance with environmental laws and regulations, during which time the firm installed advanced technology and installed employee training programs to ensure continued compliance.
Renaissance man? Besides his political and legal talents, Stoker also does the world’s best imitation of Jack Nicholson, Newsmakers can attest, and is a serious Deadhead:
He's also a Grateful Dead fan. He posted a photo of himself wearing a tie-dyed shirt ahead of a concert in July 2016. He wrote, "Last week this time I was a CA Republican delegate getting our delegation going. Tonight Irvine Meadows for the Dead. My 82nd show since 1970. Going for the Sanders voters."
So there's that.
Images: Mike Stoker (Paul Wellman, SB Independent); Stoker with California Republican Party Chairman Jim Brulte at the 2016 GOP national convention that nominated Donald Trump; Kelsey Brugger; Deadhead Stoker.