EPA set to appoint former oil spokesman who coined ‘Lock her up’ chant to key position

Michael Stoker's industry ties run deep.

The headquarters of the United States Environmental Protection Agency. CREDIT: Matt McClain/ The Washington Post via Getty Images
The headquarters of the United States Environmental Protection Agency. CREDIT: Matt McClain/ The Washington Post via Getty Images

The California agriculture attorney and former oil spokesman credited with coining the infamous “Lock her up!” chant directed at Hillary Clinton is reportedly set to receive a big promotion. Sources speaking with E&E News claim the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) will announce Republican Michael Stoker as head of the agency’s office overseeing the Pacific Southwest region.

As E&E News reported Monday, Stoker is expected to head the EPA’s San Francisco-based Region 9 office, which in addition to California oversees Hawaii, Arizona, and Nevada. This post has been vacant for more than a year and remains the only regional EPA office without a politically-appointed leader under the Trump administration.

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Andy Caldwell, executive director for the Coalition of Labor, Agriculture, and Business (COLAB), reportedly told attendees at an annual event in Santa Barbara County on Saturday about the appointment.

“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,” Caldwell told sources, according to E&E.

“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?” he continued.

Stoker has yet to be officially named to the position and he told E&E he could neither “confirm or deny” the appointment.

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If named as the new head of Region 9, Stoker would bring with him a legacy of fossil fuel industry ties. He once worked for Greka Oil & Gas Inc (also known as HVI Cat Canyon Inc.), an oil and gas company that has faced numerous environmental compliance issues.

Between 1999 and 2008 the company spilled more than half a million gallons of oil and contaminated water in Southern California according to the Associated Press. One EPA Superfund division employee told the AP in 2008 that Greka was the “worst oil company” he had ever seen.

Stoker has been a fixture in California politics for decades, working as an elected county supervisor beginning in 1986 and chairing the California Agricultural Labor Relations Board from 1995 to 2000. He served as California deputy secretary of state from 2000 to 2002 and unsuccessfully ran for the California state senate in 2012.

At the July 2016 Republican National Convention, Stoker was credited with beginning the “Lock her up!” chant targeting President Trump’s then-opponent, Hillary Clinton. The chant later became popular at rallies among the president’s supporters.

Stoker’s appointment would come at a tense time in California’s relationship with the Trump administration. The Washington Post reported Friday that the White House plans to freeze Obama-era fuel-efficiency standards for automobiles while challenging California’s ability to set its own rules governing such standards. California currently has a Clean Air Act waiver in place allowing the state to set its own tailpipe emissions limits. While no final policy has surfaced, a leaked draft indicates the Trump administration may challenge the state’s waiver.

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That would set up yet another fight between the Golden State and the White House. “We’ll closely monitor any developments and I’m ready to take any and all action necessary to defend our progress,” California Attorney General Xavier Becerra (D) said in a statement following the news.

California has filed more than 26 lawsuits against the Trump administration over the course of the last year and a half. Many have centered on environmental issues, the area where the state has had the most success. As of late January, six of the state’s 10 wins against the administration have related to environmental concerns, including challenges over methane leaks from natural gas wells on federal lands.

While the Californian government fights the Trump administration, the state’s EPA office is embroiled in turmoil. The San Francisco Chronicle reported in February that EPA cuts and policy shifts within the agency have contributed to low morale and a spike in departures in the California office. A $2.5 billion cut to the EPA budget as a whole proposed by the Trump administration along with decreasing action against polluters and inspections have contributed to unhappiness within the office, employees said.

“I’ve been here 31 years, and this is definitely the worst I’ve seen it in the EPA in terms of job security, staffing and just being able to do the work that the American people expect to protect the environment,” engineer Mark Sims, who works in the air enforcement division in Region 9, told the publication at the time.

It’s not just California that’s seeing numbers and morale drop. Approximately 700 employees have left the EPA since Trump took office, bringing staffing numbers to Reagan-era levels.