EPA Administrator Jackson announces resignation

WASHINGTON (AP) — EPA Administrator Lisa

Jackson, the Obama administration's chief environmental watchdog, is

stepping down

after a nearly four years marked by high-profile brawls over

global warming pollution, the Keystone XL oil pipeline, new controls

on coal-fired plants and several other hot-button issues that

affect the nation's economy and people's health.

Jackson constantly found herself caught

between administration pledges to solve thorny environmental problems

and steady resistance

from Republicans and industrial groups who complained that the

agency's rules destroyed jobs and made it harder for American

companies to compete internationally.

The GOP chairman of the House Energy and

Commerce Committee, Rep. Fred Upton of Michigan, said last year that

Jackson would

need her own parking spot at the Capitol because he planned to

bring her in so frequently for questioning. Republican presidential

nominee Mitt Romney called for her firing, a stance that had

little downside during the GOP primary.

Jackson, 50, the agency's first black administrator and a chemical engineer, did not point to any particular reason for her

departure. Historically, Cabinet members looking to move on will leave at the beginning of a president's second term.

Despite the opposition, which former EPA chiefs have said is the worst they have seen against the agency, Jackson still managed

to take significant steps that will improve air quality and begin to curb global warming.

"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," she

said in a statement. Jackson will leave sometime after President

Barack Obama delivers his State of the Union address, typically in

late January.

In a separate statement, Obama said Jackson has been "an important part of my team." He thanked her for serving and praised

her "unwavering commitment" to the public's health.

"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," he said.

Environmental activist groups and other

supporters lauded Jackson for the changes she was able to make, but

industry representatives

said some may have come at an economic cost. Groups also noted

that she leaves a large, unfinished agenda.

"There has been no fiercer champion of our health and our environment than Lisa Jackson, and every American is better off

today than when she took office nearly four years ago," said Frances Beinecke, president of the Natural Resources Defense

Council. But she noted that Jackson's successor will inherit an unfinished agenda, including the need to issue new health

protections against carbon pollution from existing power plants.

Sen. Tom Carper, D-Del., chairman of the Senate's subcommittee on clean air, called Jackson's tenure a "breath of fresh air"

and credited her for setting historic fuel economy standards for cars and trucks, and for finalizing clean air standards.

But Scott Segal, director of the Electric

Reliability Coordinating Council, said Jackson presided over some of the

most expensive

environmental rules in EPA 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," Segal said. "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."

Other environmental groups, however, praised Jackson's clean air efforts.

"Notwithstanding the difficult economic and political challenges EPA faced, her agency was directly responsible for saving

the lives of tens of thousands of Americans and improving the health of millions throughout the country," said S. William

Becker of the National Association of Clean Air Agencies. "She will be sorely missed."

Larry Schweiger, head of the National Wildlife Federation, cited her climate change work and efforts to reduce carbon pollution.

Environmental groups had high expectations for the Obama administration after eight years of President George W. Bush, a Texas

oilman who rebuffed agency scientists and refused act on climate change. Jackson came into office promising a more active

EPA.

But she soon learned that changes would not

occur as quickly as she had hoped. Jackson watched as a Democratic-led

effort

to reduce global warming emissions passed the House in 2009 but

was then abandoned by the Senate as economic concerns became

the priority. The concept behind the bill, referred to as

cap-and-trade, would have established a system where power companies

bought and sold pollution rights.

"That's a revolutionary message for our country," Jackson said at a Paris conference shortly after accepting the job.

Jackson experienced another big setback last

year when the administration scrubbed a clean-air regulation aimed at

reducing

health-threatening smog. Republican lawmakers had been hammering

the president over the proposed rule, accusing him of making

it harder for companies to create jobs.

She also vowed to better control toxic coal ash after a massive spill in Tennessee, but that regulation has yet to be finalized

more than four years after the spill.

Jackson had some victories, too. During her

tenure, the administration finalized a new rule doubling fuel efficiency

standards

for cars and light trucks. The requirements will be phased in over

13 years and eventually require all new vehicles to average

54.5 mpg, up from 28.6 mpg at the end of last year.

She shepherded another rule that forces

power plants to control mercury and other toxic pollutants for the first

time. Previously,

the nation's coal- and oil-fired power plants had been allowed to

run without addressing their full environmental and public

health costs.

Jackson also helped persuade the administration to table the controversial Keystone XL pipeline, which would have brought

carbon-heavy tar sands oil from Canada to refineries in Texas.

House Republicans dedicated much of their

time this past election year trying to rein in the EPA. They passed a

bill seeking

to thwart regulation of the coal industry and quash the stricter

fuel efficiency standards. In the end, though, the bill made

no headway in the Senate. It served mostly as election-year fodder

that appeared to have little impact on the presidential

race.