Lisa Jackson said she will step down as head of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency after four years during which she led the first efforts to curb carbon- dioxide emissions to combat global-warming risks.
“I will leave the EPA confident the ship is sailing in the right direction,” Jackson, 50, said today in a statement from the agency. Her plan is to depart after the president’s State of the Union speech next year.
Under Jackson, the EPA negotiated stricter fuel-efficiency standards with automakers and proposed the first-ever rules for mercury pollution and carbon emissions at power plants, often triggering protests from industry and Republicans in Congress. Jackson, the first black person to head the 18,000-employee agency, also pushed to ensure that poor and minority groups don’t bear the brunt of environmental pollution.
“Over the last four years, Lisa Jackson has shown an unwavering commitment to the health of our families and our children,” President Barack Obama said in a statement. “Under her leadership, the EPA has taken sensible and important steps to protect the air we breathe and the water we drink.”
Possible successors include Bob Perciasepe, the agency’s No. 2 official; Heather Zichal, the top White House aide for energy and environment; Gina McCarthy, the EPA assistant administrator for air pollution; and Dan Esty, the top environmental regulator in Connecticut and a former Yale University professor, environmental advocates said.
Obama, re-elected last month, is seeking replacements for agency and department heads who have indicated they won’t serve in a second term, such as Defense Secretary Leon Panetta. Obama last week nominated Senator John Kerry, a Massachusetts Democrat, to succeed Hillary Rodham Clinton, who said she plans to leave the post of secretary of State. Jackson didn’t say what her plans were.
Health and environmental groups have praised Jackson for taking up rules that were delayed or weakened under the previous administration, while Republicans in Congress complained that the EPA’s efforts were choking off the still-struggling U.S. economy.
Representative Fred Upton, a Michigan Republican and chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee that has challenged the agency’s rules, last year said Jackson would need her own parking space on Capitol Hill because he planned to call her so often to testify.
Republicans unsuccessfully sought to overturn by legislation the greenhouse-gas curbs. As head of the EPA, Jackson often bore the brunt of their complaints about “job killing” regulations from Washington.
She disclosed her plans amid fresh Republican criticism. Upton wrote Jackson a letter this month questioning her use of an e-mail alias for internal correspondence, saying such “secondary e-mail accounts” may make it harder for the committee to conduct adequate oversight of agency decisions. The EPA has said other administrators used aliases to communicate within the agency because public e-mail accounts get inundated with messages.
The agency’s Office of Inspector General said this month it is investigating the issue.
A New Orleans native, Jackson was able to charm some of the agency’s critics, who today praised her as an honest and effective communicator even as they criticized the policies she advanced.
“Lisa Jackson and I disagreed on many issues and regulations while she headed the EPA; however, I have always appreciated her receptivity to my concerns, her accessibility and her honesty,” Senator James Inhofe, the Oklahoma Republican who has called climate change a hoax, said in a statement. “I truly wish her the best and thank her for her service in state and federal government.”
Jackson kept a framed holiday card from Inhofe on her EPA office shelf. She started at the EPA as a scientist in 1987 and worked in the agency’s New York regional office. Jackson, who has a master’s degree in chemical engineering from Princeton University, joined the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection in 2002 and became the agency’s commissioner in 2006.
Scott Segal, a utility lobbyist and director for the Electric Reliability Coordinating Council, a Washington-based industry group, said Jackson’s EPA presided over some of the most expensive and controversial rules in its history.
“Agency rules have been used as blunt attempts to marginalize coal and other solid fossil fuels and to make motor fuels more costly at the expense of industrial jobs, energy security, and economic recovery,” Segal said in an e-mail.
He credited Jackson for her “likable personality” and her “skilled use of political leverage.”
Environmental groups praised Jackson’s tenure at the EPA.
Frank O’Donnell, president of Washington-based Clean Air Watch, called her a “champion” for clean air. He credited Jackson for backing new restrictions on greenhouse-gas emissions and for strong standards over mercury and other emissions from coal power plants.
O’Donnell said Perciasepe is her “most likely” successor.
Jackson had setbacks, such as the 2011 White House decision to block the EPA from updating smog standards, O’Donnell said in an e-mail today.
The administration’s effort to pass broad climate-change legislation also failed under opposition from Republicans and industrial-state Democrats in the Senate, leaving the EPA to shoulder responsibility for greenhouse-gas curbs on its own.
Frances Beinecke, president of the Natural Resources Defense Council in New York, said Jackson is a fierce proponent for public health and the environment.
“Every American is better off today than when she took office nearly four years ago,” Beinecke said today in a statement. “Lisa leaves giant shoes to fill.”
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