Ousted Western EPA Chief Speaks Out

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The ousted head of the Western region office of the Environmental Protection Agency said Tuesday he believes he fell victim to his popularity with Democrats, like Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who had praised him for his work on the cleanup of the Hunters Point Naval Shipyard in San Francisco.

Mike Stoker is perhaps best known for coining the famous “Lock Her up!” chant directed at Hillary Clinton in President Trump’s 2016 campaign. But in an interview Tuesday, he says he suspects he is now a victim of a Trump attack for being bi-partisan.

Yet he remains a Trump loyalist.   

“You don’t just protect one side of the aisle,” he said in a phone interview during an impromptu visit to Disneyland after he was fired last week. In a letter to his colleagues, he cited policy clashes with headquarters as playing a role, but also indicated an insider told him he came under fire after being praised by Pelosi and three other Western Democrats. In the case of Hunters Point, the agency took a stand in November by faulting the Navy’s testing goals for the radioactively contaminated site as falling short of guaranteeing public safety.

Stoker said Pelosi praised him for that stand. “I’m proud of that, now whether that had anything to do with it – I have no clue,” said Stoker, a former Santa Barbara county supervisor and a lawyer who had previously represented oil interests before joining the agency two years ago.

Pelosi’s office did not respond to requests for comment for this story.

The EPA has quickly and flatly denied Stoker’s claim of retaliation, however, saying it expects all its regional administrators to be bipartisan. The administration had also previously defended Stoker against criticism that he spent too much time traveling. He had even created an  EPA outpost near his home of Carpinteria near Santa Barbara, far from the western EPA’s San Francisco headquarters.

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Stoker has defended his travel and focus on Southern California as that region being a huge part of his responsibility.

On Tuesday, Stoker said the way he was notified was “bungled,” and that he would have gladly resigned had he been given a reason for his departure. But he never got an explanation before his computer access was disabled.

“Out of the blue, you get a call a day after the State of the Union at 8 o’clock in the morning,” he said, “and you’re told, ‘By 2 o’clock east coast time either we need your resignation or you’re fired.’”

An advocate for  whistleblowers at federal environmental agencies said Tuesday that he fears Stoker fell victim to political forces.

“The idea of working with California on anything appears to be a political death sentence, right now,” said Jeff Ruch, the Pacific Coast head of Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility. Ruch said Stoker had shown a willingness to work with California leaders on air quality issues – likely rankling his bosses in Washington.

“It’s not like this guy was some renegade,” Ruch said. “He was a Trump loyalist who takes credit for the ‘Lock her up!’ chant at the convention -- it’s almost like the Trump administration is eating its own.”

Stoker says he wishes his former colleagues and his successor – former PG&E lawyer John Busterud – well in fulfilling the agency’s mission.

“If there’s any agency that should not have any partisanship at all, it’s the EPA,” Stoker said, “and serving the mission of the EPA,  which is protecting the public health and the environment.”

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