New head of EPA’s California regional office questions role of humans in climate change

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President Trump’s choice to head the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) region that oversees California and other western U.S. states is not convinced that science conclusively shows humans are the primary cause of global climate change.

Mike Stoker, a former lobbyist for big agriculture, should feel at home in an administration where questioning the science behind climate change is the norm.

In an interview with E&E News after his appointment last Friday to head EPA’s Region 9, Stoker said he is a firm believer that the science on climate change is “not conclusive.”

He also told E&E News that there’s been a cooling trend over the past two years and said he questions whether humans are causing climate change or if natural resources are to blame.

The overwhelming majority of climate scientists  — 97 percent  — understand that humans are the primary cause of climate change. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) data also doesn’t mesh with Stoker’s claims. April was the 400th consecutive month with temperatures above the 20th century average, NOAA said, making December 1984 the last month the planet had below-average temperatures.

Stoker, a stalwart Republican who claims credit for coining the “lock her up” chant about Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton, will now be heading an EPA regional office that oversees states where officials take fighting climate change seriously.

California has been one of the most aggressive states in fighting climate change as has Hawaii, which enacted a law that mandates all of the state’s electricity comes from renewable energy sources no later than 2045.

The region, with its 700 employees, also handles environmental oversight in the states of Arizona and Nevada and the Pacific islands of Guam, American Samoa, and the Northern Marianas.

Stoker had high praise for his new boss, EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt, who is facing at least 14 ethics investigations and has clearly stated his goal is to weaken the nation’s environmental regulations.

“I personally believe Pruitt is the best administrator I’ve seen with the EPA … in my professional lifetime,” he told E&E News. “The business and regulated communities got the short end of the stick. Pruitt is bringing back balance.”

Mike Stoker is sworn in as the new administrator of the EPA’s Region 9 office in California. CREDIT: Screenshot/Stoker Facebook video

The business community welcomed Trump’s appointment of Stoker, a former member of the Santa Barbara County, California board of supervisors, to head the Region 5 office. “To grow jobs in California, we need balance between our important environmental needs and diverse economy,” California Business Roundtable President Robert Lapsley said in a statement included in the EPA’s news release announcing Stoker’s appointment.

Earlier in his career, Stoker worked for an oil company formerly known as Greka Energy, where he served as the company’s chief spokesperson. The company was under investigation by Santa Barbara County for environmental violations and eventually agreed to pay the county $2 million in fees for numerous oil spills, according to E&E News.

Throughout his professional life, Stoker has worked to reduce regulations — what he calls “over-regulation” — that he believes harm California’s businesses.

In 2012, Stoker won the Republican nomination for California’s 19th state Senate District. In a radio interview during the campaign, he labeled his Democratic opponent a “diehard environmentalist” who works with the environmental caucus in the California Legislature to retain regulations that harm businesses in the state. His campaign focused primarily on cutting regulations. He lost the general election, with 44 percent of the district’s votes versus 56 percent for his opponent, Hannah-Beth Jackson (D).

Questions also surround whether Stoker wants to work from the EPA Region 9’s headquarters office in San Francisco. The Los Angeles Times reported last week that Stoker was considering either working from his home in Santa Barbara or in a satellite office in Los Angeles. Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) sent a letter to Pruitt asking how the arrangement would work and what it would cost taxpayers.

Stoker isn’t the first EPA official who did not want to work where his job was located. Even before he was officially sworn in as EPA administrator, Pruitt himself looked into setting up an EPA office in his hometown of Tulsa, Oklahoma so that he would not have to work full-time at the agency’s headquarters in Washington. The agency decided not to set up an office in Tulsa.

In the interview with E&E News, Stoker said San Francisco would be his “duty station” but that he also would work from the Los Angeles office and other field offices.

Author: Mark Hand

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