Carpinteria resident Mike Stoker has been dismissed from his position as the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Region 9 administrator after less than two years, but the reason remains a mystery.
“I can confirm that Mike Stoker is no longer with the agency,” Michael Alpern, Region 9 public affairs director, told Noozhawk on Thursday.
Deborah Jordan, deputy regional administrator, has been named the acting regional administrator.
EPA’s Region 9 office, based in San Francisco, oversees the agency’s activities in Arizona, California, Hawaii, Nevada, the Pacific islands (including Guam, American Samoa, and the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands), and 148 tribal nations.
Stoker said he sent a letter, released to Bloomberg Law, to his EPA Region 9 colleagues to say he was advised to resign or face termination on Wednesday.
Stoker said he was only told the termination wasn’t personal, adding that he declined to resign without a reason from his EPA supervisors, and that “nothing makes sense.”
“That statement tells as much as I know. I think a lot of people are really in shock over this,” Stoker said.
In his letter to Region 9 employees, he blamed his ouster on “too many clashes between myself and leadership in HQ over policy and non-policy items.”
He also claimed in the letter that he had been told “that it wasn’t going unnoticed how many Democrat members in Congress were commending me for the job I was doing.”
“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,” Stoker wrote. “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.”
The political appointee declined to speak against President Donald Trump.
“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” Stoker wrote. “I was appointed by the president, and I remain loyal to the president.”
Late Thursday morning, the Region 9 website was switched to remove Stoker as Region 9 administrator and add Jordan.
Stoker’s tenure at EPA included questions about how often he showed up the agency’s San Francisco office.
In March, the EPA”s Office of Inspector General released a “management alert” after receiving a hotline complaint about Stoker’s lack of time spent in San Francisco, the time spent at the Los Angeles office, and “his excessive number of trips, including numerous trips to locations in Southern California.”
Region 9’s San Francisco office has more than 617 employees, or 93 percent, with just 43 assigned to the Los Angeles and other locations.
Before Stoker took the job, the EPA’s Office of General Counsel sent a memorandum to the agency’s chief of staff in response to a request for advice on whether the EPA could institute a pilot program to establish a duty station for the Region 9 leader in Los Angeles, instead of San Francisco.
“The agency’s chief of staff stated that covering California alone is significant, citing numerous issues in the Los Angeles area involving the border, Native American populations, Superfund sites, ports, and other matters involving the second largest city in the country,” the management alert said.
The agency’s chief of staff added that he would expect the regional administrator to spend a significant amount of his time on those issues.
Stoker’s calendar and travel documents from May 21, 2018, through Jan. 31, 2019, revealed 145 workdays, with 30 days spent in the San Francisco office, 19 days in the Los Angeles office, 72 days on official travel, and 24 telework days.
He also took 35 trips at a cost of $43,875 for the same time frame, with destinations including numerous locations for meetings, conferences and site visits.
Of the 35 trips taken, 15 included destinations in Southern California, the OIG report noted.
The management alert report noted factual information, but did not include any conclusions or recommendations.
Then-EPA Director Scott Pruitt appointed Stoker just two months before resigning amid ethical scandals.
Prior to taking the EPA job, Stoker had served as director of government affairs for UnitedAg, the second largest agricultural association in California.
He previously served as a member of the Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors from 1986 to 1994, chairman of the California Agricultural Labor Relations Board from 1995 to 2000, and California deputy secretary of state from 2000 to 2002.
Stoker also previously worked for beleaguered Greka Oil & Gas, prompting some concerns at his appointment that a former oil industry representative would have a prominent role at EPA.
— Noozhawk North County editor Janene Scully can be reached at email@example.com. Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.