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EPA Chief Christine Whitman Steps Down

Whitman’s spent two years of highly charged debates over the protection of the nation’s air, water and land that often put her at odds with other members of the Bush administration.

In a letter released Wednesday, Whitman told President Bush that she was leaving to spend time with family.

“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,” she wrote.

Her resignation will take effect June 27.

Whitman came to the EPA after two terms as New Jersey’s governor. A moderate with a record of preservation in her home state, Whitman had a short honeymoon in Washington before differences emerged over the president’s decision to pull out of the Kyoto international global warming treaty.

Despite reports of deep divisions between Whitman and other Cabinet members, she stood by the president, defending the Kyoto decision to domestic and international critics.

During her tenure, some environmentalists and activists accused Whitman of compromising water pollution protections and cutting spending for state offices that prosecute environmental abuses by industry. Whitman had defended the steps as needed to eliminate red tape.

Most recently, environmental groups criticized the agency for negotiating with large industrial poultry and hog farms to offer them amnesty from the Clean Air Act and existing Superfund laws in exchange for allowing the EPA to monitor their pollution levels for two years.

In her resignation letter, Whitman said her agency had built “an enviable record of success that will result in significant improvements to the state of our nation’s treasured environment.”

“Our work has been guided by the strong belief that environmental protection and economic prosperity can and must go hand-in-hand,” she wrote.

Calling the EPA “the little agency that does,” Whitman said she was specifically proud of the EPA’s actions to reduce pollution from non-road diesel engines and the Clean School Bus USA initiative that mandates that every public school bus will meet low emissions standards by 2010.

She also touted the Clear Skies Act of 2003, which seeks to reduce pollution from the nation’s power plants, record “New Source Review” settlements and the EPA’s plan to force General Electric to clean up the Hudson River.

Her resignation follows that of White House press secretary Ari Fleischer earlier in the week, as senior staff consider whether they want to leave now or remain on board through the 2004 election.

In an interview with CNN following her resignation announcement, Whitman said she informed President Bush of her intentions several weeks ago. She said that while he asked her to stay, the president was “gracious” in accepting her decision.