- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 21, 2003

Environmental Protection Agency chief Christine Todd Whitman yesterday announced her resignation, becoming the first top administrator to separate from the Bush administration.

In a letter to President Bush, Mrs. Whitman said she would leave government service June 27 to rejoin her husband, John, in their home state of New Jersey, where she previously served two terms as governor.

“I leave knowing that we have made a positive difference and that we have set the agency on a course that will result in continued environmental improvement,” Mrs. Whitman said.

“It has been a singular honor to be entrusted with the responsibility to lead the EPA in its effort to leave America’s air cleaner, its water purer, and this land better protected than it was when this administration took office,” Mrs. Whitman said.

Mrs. Whitman often was at odds with the White House over environmental policy, but was harshly criticized by liberals as a Bush loyalist bent on destroying environmental laws. Conservatives, meanwhile, privately complained she was out of touch with the administration and too often sided with environmentalists.

She told CNN she was not leaving because of any clash with the administration. “In fact, I haven’t had any. He’s [Mr. Bush] always asked me to give him my best unadulterated advice and I have done that. I’m leaving now because it’s the appropriate time to do it.”

In a written statement, Mr. Bush called Mrs. Whitman a trusted friend and adviser who helped his administration achieve environmental improvements.

“Christie Todd has been a dedicated and tireless fighter for new and innovative policies for cleaner air, purer water, and better-protected land,” Mr. Bush said.

Mrs. Whitman initially sided with environmentalists on the issue of global warming, and recently contradicted an administration effort to loosen environmental regulations on military bases by saying she knew of no instances where soldier training had been affected by strict laws. Conservatives also complained the “Clear Skies Initiative” written by the EPA contains unrealistic mercury-emission targets.

Terry McAuliffe, Democratic National Committee chairman, called Mrs. Whitman a “fish out of polluted water” and a casualty of an administration that sides with “big business interests and polluters.”

Key Republican lawmakers, however, praised her work and relationship with Congress.

House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Billy Tauzin of Louisiana said Mrs. Whitman had a strong commitment to a cleaner environment.

“During Ms. Whitman’s tenure, our committee shepherded historic environmental reforms into law with the passage of Brownfields legislation that focused federal attention on the cleanup of contaminated sites throughout America,” Mr. Tauzin said.

Sen. James M. Inhofe of Oklahoma, chairman of the Committee on Environment and Public Works, said he and Mrs. Whitman had “professional differences” but praised her “aggressive efforts to solve the nation’s most complex environmental problems.”

Mrs. Whitman’s announcement comes on the heels of White House spokesman Ari Fleischer’s decision to resign and take a job in the private sector.

His decision was a signal to other top officials that it is OK to resign, and one White House aide said those who stick with the administration through the summer will be expected to stay on through the 2004 election.

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