A hero to the environmental movement and a constant thorn in the sides of Republicans and the energy sector, outgoing Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Lisa P. Jackson presided over one of the most controversial and dramatic periods in the agency's history.
She made her mark by helping craft new automobile fuel standards, imposing a ban on new coal-fired power plants, and being among the loudest in calling for action to combat climate change.
But Ms. Jackson, who announced her resignation Thursday after four years at the helm of the EPA, also sustained several legal defeats and embarrassments during her tenure. Among Republicans and many in the fossil-fuels industry, she has dragged the agency's scientific credibility to an all-time low after failed attempts to tie hydraulic fracturing to water contamination in Texas, Wyoming and Pennsylvania.
She also is departing as the EPA and two House committees investigate her use of secret email accounts.
Less than a year ago, one of Ms. Jackson's top deputies, Al Armendariz, was forced to resign after promising to "crucify" oil and gas companies in order to set an example for the rest of the industry.
But those setbacks, as far as Ms. Jackson and President Obama are concerned, pale in comparison with the accomplishments of the past four years.
"I will leave the EPA confident the ship is sailing in the right direction, and ready in my own life for new challenges, time with my family and new opportunities to make a difference," said Ms. Jackson, the first black EPA administrator.
She plans to leave office after Mr. Obama's State of the Union address, though an exact date has not been set.
In his own statement, the president lauded Ms. Jackson's tenure at the EPA and cast her as a key player in implementing the most significant environmental rules and regulations of the past four years.
"Under her leadership, the EPA has taken sensible and important steps to protect the air we breathe and the water we drink, including implementing the first national standard for harmful mercury pollution, taking important action to combat climate change under the Clean Air Act and playing a key role in establishing historic fuel economy standards that will save the average American family thousands of dollars at the pump, while also slashing carbon pollution," Mr. Obama said.
Within the environmental community, Ms. Jackson's popularity remains high. The Natural Resources Defense Council, the Sierra Club and other environmental groups praised her Thursday.
"Administrator Jackson has been one of the most effective leaders in the history of the Environmental Protection Agency. Her legacy will be cleaner air for all Americans," said Larry Schweiger, president and CEO of the National Wildlife Federation.
Frances Beinecke, president of the Natural Resources Defense Council, said every American is better off as a result of Ms. Jackson's actions.
"Lisa leaves giant shoes to fill. Her successor will inherit an unfinished agenda," she said.
That unfinished agenda includes a massive EPA study of the potential links between hydraulic fracturing — commonly known as fracking — and water pollution. It is the largest, most sweeping federal look at the practice to date, but it has come under fire from those who say it is meant only to provide cover for harsh new regulations that environmentalists want on ideological grounds.
On at least three occasions, the agency has blamed the process for harming drinking-water supplies. Each time it has been forced to backpedal after further study cast doubt on its findings.
Those incidents and others have eroded the EPA's credibility among Republicans, some of whom surely will doubt any scientific findings released by the EPA over the next four years.
Sen. James M. Inhofe, Oklahoma Republican and one of the EPA's loudest critics, recently asked, "Why should anyone trust their 'science' now?"
On Thursday, he blasted the EPA's actions but commended Ms. Jackson for her honesty and congeniality — a sentiment shared by many other Republicans and leaders in the fossil-fuel industry, even those who disagree with Obama administration policy.
"She was one of the few at the EPA that was honest with me," Mr. Inhofe said. "While so many other Obama administration appointees don't tell the truth, she did, and I hope that is not the reason for her departure."
But Mr. Inhofe and others say that although she may have been an upfront and honest public official, her efforts have been and will continue to be disastrous for American consumers and energy producers.
"From an energy and consumer perspective, it had to be said that the Jackson EPA presided over some of the most expensive and controversial rules in agency 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," said Scott Segal, director of the Electric Reliability Coordinating Council, a coalition of energy companies. "The record of the agency over the same period in overestimating benefits to major rules has not assisted the public in determining whether these rules have been worth it."
Although it is unclear whether Ms. Jackson's resignation is tied to the growing furor around her use of secret email accounts, critics say she is simply getting out of town before the scandal grows.
"It is not only implausible that Lisa Jackson's resignation was unrelated to her false identity, which we revealed, given how the obvious outcome and apparent objective of such subversion of transparency laws was intolerable," said Christopher C. Horner, a senior fellow at the Competitive Enterprise Institute, which sued the EPA this year for records related to the secret emails.
"But it became an inevitability when, last week, the Department of Justice agreed [as a result of our lawsuit] to begin producing 12,000 of her 'Richard Windsor' alias accounts related to the war on coal Jackson was orchestrating on behalf of President Obama outside of the appropriate democratic process," he said.
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