Widely criticized EPA administrator resigns

Christine Todd Whitman, the Environmental Protection Agency administrator who during her two and a half year tenure has often found herself at odds with environmentalists and the Bush administration, announced her resignation on Tuesday afternoon.

In a May 20 resignation letter, Whitman said she would step down as EPA administrator in late June, to devote more attention to her family. Deputy EPA Administrator Linda Fisher will temporarily fill Whitman's shoes if the agency has not found a permanent replacement by June 27, according to spokeswoman Bonnie Piper.

"As rewarding as the past two-and-a-half years have been for me professionally, it is time to return to my home and husband in New Jersey, which I love just as you do your home state of Texas," Whitman wrote in her letter to President Bush. "I leave knowing that we have made a positive difference and that we have set the [EPA] on a course that will result in continued environmental improvement."

Shortly after taking office, Whitman decided not to challenge a court decision that awarded an EPA employee who accused the agency of race and sex discrimination $600,000 in damages. Allegations of widespread discrimination and retaliation had plagued the EPA the year before Whitman arrived.

In two and a half years at the EPA, Whitman led successful efforts to protect water quality, reduce diesel fuel pollution and clean up abandoned industrial waste sites, Bush said in a statement. He called Whitman, who left her post as New Jersey's first female governor to run the EPA, a "dedicated and tireless fighter for new and innovative policies for cleaner air, purer and better protected land."

But Whitman engendered criticism from environmental groups and alienated her own staff members.

Jeff Ruch, the executive director of Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER), a Washington based nonprofit, is not sad to see Whitman go. She has "presided over the greatest rollback in environmental enforcement in history, has pushed pollution control policies that put corporations rather than public health considerations in the driver's seat," he said. "[She] allowed the White House to make decision after decision that trumped her own judgment as well as that of the experts within the EPA."

Ruch's group would like to see Bush replace Whitman with a moderate who will stand up for his or her beliefs. "We had high hopes for [Whitman] when she came in, because of her previous environmental record," PEER spokeswoman Jennifer Reed said. "But she always toed the party line."

Whitman insisted staff call her "governor," her former title, and she was sometimes considered out of touch with the actions of agency managers. For instance, in June 2002, she acknowledged that she was unaware her agency had sent the United Nations a report stating that human activity has caused the earth's climate to change, a position Bush does not support.

Her push to delegate more environmental oversight responsibilities to states also angered some of her staff members and resulted in at least two high-profile resignations. In February 2002, Eric Schaeffer, head of EPA's Office of Regulatory Enforcement, left the agency because he believed Whitman had undermined federal efforts to enforce air quality standards. Robert Martin, the EPA's national ombudsman, resigned in April 2002 when Whitman stripped him of major job responsibilities.

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