EPA Chief: Stoker's Our Guy - Mike Speaks
Scott Pruitt, the embattled Administrator of the EPA, on Friday formally named ex-Santa Barbara County supervisor Mike Stoker to head the Western regional office of the agency --less than 24 hours after publication of an embarrassing article about delays in the appointment.
“It’s an honor to be working for the President and for Administrator Pruitt,” Stoker told Newsmakers in a telephone interview. “It’s the culmination of my years of public service.”
In his position, Stoker will manage about 700 EPA employees in California, Arizona, Hawaii and Nevada, and “oversee environmental protection efforts” in what is known as the agency’s Region 9 office.
Mindful that many environmentalists and groups consider him an enemy of federal regulations aimed at protecting water, air and soil, Stoker said he would be a fair-minded broker who works to balance competing interests in his new post.
“You don’t have to be bad for the environment to be good for business,” he told us. “And you don’t have to be bad for business to be good for the environment.”
“The extreme environmentalists may not consider me an environmentalist, but if you put me anywhere else in the country, my environmental credentials are very strong,” he added.
In the interview, Stoker also addressed several other matters:
Federal-state environmental war. Stoker downplayed the current battles between the Administration and California over the state’s tougher-than-federal regulations on a host of environmental concerns. He insisted that regulations will prevail, “unless there’s a Supremacy Clause” constitutional or legal holding establishing that federal law trumps (sorry) state law: “If (Californians) want to be the most regulated citizens in the people in the country, they can be the most regulated.”
Asked specifically about Pruitt’s push to force the state to reduce its tough fuel efficiency standards, Stoker said, “we’re a long way from that yet,” citing a suit state Attorney General Xavier Becerra has filed against the feds. That said, he added that he “personally support(s) Administrator Pruitt” in trying impose “uniform standards” on automakers across the country. “If you’re making cars, or you’re making widgets, it’s good to have uniform standards.”
Location, location, location. Mike dismissed the thrust of Thursday’s L.A. Times article, which reported he was balking at moving to San Francisco, where the Region 9 office is located: “I was kind of flattered by the article – when Democrats will do anything they can to (attack) the Trump Administration, the best they could do is complain about what office I’m going to go to.”
He said he expects to spend about “two-thirds of my time on the road,” serving as “the face of the agency,” adding that, “I like to be out there and serving as the ambassador of the EPA, and being available to stakeholders” on every side of environmental controversies.
He intends to keep his home here – “I’m not going to sell my house in Santa Barbara based on a job I’m going to do in the Trump Administration" – but would have a presence in the San Francisco headquarters – “probably staying at motels (and) Airbnbs.”
Offshore oil. Stoker declined to discuss Trump’s push for new oil drilling off the coast of California, when we asked how he would communicate Santa Barbara’s anti-drilling sensibilities to the Administration, saying it is outside his jurisdiction. He suggested Newsmakers “take it up with the Secretary of the Interior.”
Length of service. He disclosed that Trump's nomination of him to be head of the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service is still alive, although it has been stalled in a Senate committee amid Democratic efforts to block many White House appointments.
He said the matter was unlikely to come up before the mid-term congressional elections, but said that if he were able to be confirmed to that post “in a year-and-a-half,” he would consider leaving the EPA.
Local support. Stoker told us that a host of prominent local Democrats -- including Rep. Salud Carbajal, former congresswoman Lois Capps, Supervisor Das Williams and ex-Assembly member Pedro Nava, wrote letters to the Senate Health, Education, Labor & Pension Committee in support of his nomination to the federal mediation post; we've reached out to all four - Lois and Pedro confirm Stoker's account; Salud and Das are both ducking.
Bottom line. Pruitt, who is besieged in Washington by investigations into his personal spending in office and cozy relationships with lobbyists, said in the EPA announcement that Stoker’s appointment is "receiving widespread praise."
In support, he quoted statements from six individuals or organizations on the conservative side of environmental issues, including Republican Rep. Jeff Denham of Hawthorne; California Business Roundtable; the state Chamber of Commerce; UnitedAg, an agriculture industry interest group; Andy Caldwell, executive director of COLAB (Coalition of Labor, Agriculture and Business) in Santa Barbara County and SOS California, a group that calls for “extraction of underlying oil and gas reserves” off the coast, in order to reduce natural seepage.
On the other side of the issue, Linda Krop, Chief Counsel of the Environmental Defense Center told Newsmakers that Stoker's appointment is "alarming."
"He has a proven record of opposing regulations that are necessary to protect public health and safety," Linda said. "His alliance with the oil industry does not bode well for our region."
P.S. Keep an eye out for a Nick interview of Stoker at independent.com.
Images: EPA logo; Mike Stoker; EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt.