EPA Chief Announces Resignation

After a rough and tumble four years, Lisa Jackson announced Thursday that she is stepping down as head of the Environmental Protection Agency.

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The head of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency announced today that she's stepping down. Lisa Jackson won praise from environmentalists for efforts to cut air pollution and greenhouse gases. But she faced fierce opposition from the coal industry and congressional Republicans. And she sometimes found herself at odds with the White House.

NPR's Veronique LaCapra has our story.

VERONIQUE LACAPRA, BYLINE: EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson says there's no separating people from their environment.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED BROADCAST)

LISA JACKSON: Sometimes we think of the environment as something out there. But the environment is the air we breathe. It's directly related to asthma rates and bronchitis and heart attacks and stroke.

LACAPRA: That's from an interview last year with NPR. During her four-year tenure, the first African-American EPA chief pushed through some groundbreaking regulations to help clean up the air. Jackson targeted power plants, creating new standards for mercury, soot and other hazardous air pollutants. She also put the first ever limits on greenhouse gas emissions.

Bob Deans is associate director of the Natural Resources Defense Council. He says he and others in the environmental community are sorry to see Jackson go.

BOB DEANS: She was a real credit to the Environmental Protection Agency.

LACAPRA: One of her biggest achievements, Deans says, is that she succeeded in brokering a deal with automakers to double fuel efficiency standards by 2025.

DEANS: And that's going to save consumers $100 billion a year at the pump, it's going to cut our carbon emissions from automobiles in half, and it's going to save us 3 million barrels of oil every day.

LACAPRA: But Jackson's aggressive efforts were sometimes met with opposition, even from her own administration. The most notable example came at the end of 2011 when President Obama blocked her from putting stricter limits on ozone, a key component of smog. The president was reluctant to saddle industry with the regulation's $90 billion price tag, especially during a recession.

Jackson also came under repeated fire from the fossil fuel industry and congressional Republicans. They said she was crippling the economy and trying to drive coal-fired power plants out of business.

JEFFREY HOLMSTEAD: There's no question that the EPA regulations will increase the cost of energy, electrical power in particular.

LACAPRA: Jeffrey Holmstead is an attorney with Bracewell & Giuliani, a law firm that represents energy companies. He also served as the head of the EPA's Office of Air during the first half of the recent Bush administration. Holmstead says the EPA has enacted more regulations under Jackson than at any other time in its history, leading to a slew of legal challenges.

HOLMSTEAD: Her real legacy...

(LAUGHTER)

HOLMSTEAD: ...won't be known for another probably a year or 18 months because some of the major regulations that happened on her watch are still being challenged in the courts.

LACAPRA: But he says even many of her strongest opponents have come to respect her.

HOLMSTEAD: She's been very effective in dealing with Congress, even winning over some of her critics who think she's a pretty likeable person and a pretty effective communicator. So I think she will go down as having been a very effective administrator of EPA.

LACAPRA: Jackson says she plans to leave her post sometime after the president's State of the Union address. It's not known who the administration will choose to succeed her.

Veronique LaCapra, NPR News, Washington.

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