The Trump administration is expected to name Michael Stoker, a California attorney and former oil spokesman, to head the Environmental Protection Agency's regional office overseeing the Pacific Southwest—a post that has been vacant for more than a year.
The news was first announced at a fundraiser for the Coalition of Labor, Agriculture and Business in Santa Barbara County, where Stoker once served on the county's board of supervisors. Andy Caldwell, the coalition's executive director, told the crowd that a press release was forthcoming. "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," he said, E&E News reports. "Mike Stoker, does any of that sound right?"
Stoker's appointment to the EPA's San Francisco-based Region 9 office comes as tensions between the federal government and the state of California over tailpipe emissions regulations are heating up. Just yesterday, Governor Jerry Brown (D) announced that California—along with 16 other states and the District of Columbia—filed a lawsuit against the Trump administration to block the EPA from rolling back fuel efficiency standards put in place by President Barack Obama.
Stoker, who cited his "proven record of always working in a bi-partisan way" in a failed Senate run in 2012, is credited with coining the "lock her up" chant about the Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton in 2016. He's also voiced support for the Trump administration's proposed border wall—which environmental groups and the state of California say will violate environmental laws—and suggested fees to cross the border could help pay for the barrier.
But more importantly for the man who will lead environmental protection efforts in the Pacific Southwest, for many years Stoker was a spokesmen for Greka Oil & Gas Inc.—perhaps the most notoriously negligent oil operator in California.
Between 1999 and 2008, the Santa Barbara County Fire Department responded to over 400 spills and leaks at Greka facilities, according to the Associated Press, amounting to half a million gallons of spilled oil and contaminated water. Stoker was hired as a Greka spokesman in 2007, when the company came under intense scrutiny for its poor record and flagrant violations including, in at least one extreme case, "twigs wrapped in socks used to stuff holes in holding tanks." In 2011, the EPA, along with the California Department of Fish and Wildlife and Regional Water Quality Control Board, filed a lawsuit against the company seeking to recoup the clean-up costs of 21 oil spills that occurred between 2005 and 2010.
Stoker told the Independent in 2009 that he "was brought on board, along with a new company president, to help turn the company around once the owner 'decided he wanted to be a good corporate citizen.'" He helped to design a "Greka Green" program that he said would make the company a "role model for onshore oil and gas companies."
Greka paid over $2 million in settlement fees to the county in 2011, and, according to Stoker, spent tens of millions to improve equipment and spill preparedness. But Greka remains a headache for county oil regulators: A 2017 status report on the oil and gas industry in Santa Barbara County showed that, of the 161 notices of violation issued to operators within the county between 2015 and 2017, 145 went to Greka.