Updated: 2/12/20, 7:57 a.m.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency official who oversaw Hawaii and portions of the Western states was abruptly forced to resign last week – and is publically questioning why he was terminated. This comes as an ex-attorney for the nation's largest utility was named his replacement.
Mike Stoker took over EPA’s Pacific Southwest regional office in 2018. The California attorney oversaw efforts to remediate sewage flow along the U.S.-Mexico border, improve air quality in Northern California, and improve wastewater facilities in Pacific territories.
In Hawaii, he oversaw EPA’s air-monitoring effort during the 2018 Kilauea eruption and worked on long term issues like cesspools and storm water runoff.
In a farewell letter to his staff, Stoker said he received a phone call from EPA headquarters the day after President Trumpʻs State of the Union, informing him to submit his resignation or be fired by the end of the day.
"I know I didn't do anything to deserve to be fired. I've never had a reprimand, nobody's had a conversation with me. The only thing that makes sense is the office of presidential personnel called up the night of the State of the Union and gave the directions to let me go," said Stoker.
Stoker says he was publically commended by several Democratic members of Congress for his work for their districts, including Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, who famously tore up her copy of that State of the Union speech.
About a month before he was fired, a friend at EPA headquarters in Washington told Stoker that Pelosiʻs praise hadn’t gone unnoticed.
Stoker says he initially pushed back against speculation that his firing was connected to Pelsoi.
"The narrative that, when she tore up that speech, you had a president that may have been in a state of mind going, ‘Nobody in my administration that works with that person is going to be working for me anymore.’ That wasn't my narrative. At first I was going, 'That’s silly.' And the more I think about it, almost nothing else makes sense."
Stoker says he was never given a reason for his dismissal. In a statement issued on Friday, an EPA spokesperson said it’s normal for regional heads to work in a bi-partisan way and that Stoker was relieved for severe neglect and incompetent administration. He said that is completely false.
In early 2019, Stoker was investigated by the EPA inspector general for excessive travel, following an anonymous complaint. That report was completed almost a year ago and came to no conclusion nor made any recommendations.
Stoker says he’s disappointed but praised career EPA staff, calling them the most professional and dedicated employees he’s ever worked with.
Associated Press reports that Stoker's successor is John Busterud. He worked for Pacific Gas and Electric for three decades. He will manage more than 600 staff employees and oversee environmental protection efforts across EPA's Region 9, which covers California, Nevada, Arizona, Hawaii, the Pacific Islands and tribal lands.