EPA Administrator Lisa P. Jackson, shown in 2011, has told President Obama… (Michael Reynolds, European…)
WASHINGTON — EPA Administrator Lisa P. Jackson said Thursday she was stepping down from the Cabinet-level post after four years in which she won new federal regulations for carbon dioxide emissions but also sparred often with Republican lawmakers and industry executives.
The first African American to hold the position and a chemical engineer by training, Jackson gave no signal on what she planned to do next. But sources close to Jackson, 50, hinted that she might be headed back to her former home in New Jersey, either for a chance to become president of Princeton University or to run for governor.
Reaction was largely muted among industry leaders and Republican lawmakers, who viewed the opening at the Environmental Protection Agency as a rare opportunity to push back on regulatory policies they see as intrusive and harmful to the stumbling economy.
"Lisa Jackson and I disagreed on many issues and regulations while she headed the EPA," Sen. James M. Inhofe of Oklahoma, the senior Republican on the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, said in a statement. "However, I have always appreciated her receptivity to my concerns."
Her leaving, he said, "provides President Obama with an opportunity to appoint an EPA administrator who appreciates the needs of our economy."
Rep. Joe L. Barton of Texas, a top Republican on the House Energy and Commerce Committee, said in an interview that "in terms of who would replace her, that is one of the more difficult jobs" in Washington.
"There's such an emotionalism about the issue," he said. "If you get someone good on science and facts, they may not have quite the passion the environmental extremists want. And if you get someone who's got the passion, they will tend to make decisions not based on the facts and hurt our economy and ability to create jobs."
Jackson told the president after his November reelection that she no longer wanted to run the agency and suggested she would be gone after his State of the Union address in January.
In speaking to her staff Thursday, she recalled talking to Obama four years ago about the need to address climate change, as well as other issues like air pollution, toxic chemicals and waste-site cleanups. However, the president backed away from major climate change legislation, as well as other issues like ozone pollution, leading to reports of tension between Jackson and the White House.
Nevertheless, Jackson said in her statement that "I leave the EPA confident the ship is sailing in the right direction."
At the White House, Obama praised Jackson for her "unwavering commitment to the health of our families and our children." He said she had been instrumental in implementing standards to reduce mercury pollution and new fuel economy standards. "Lisa has been an important part of my team," the president said.
Robert Perciasepe, the agency's deputy administrator, will temporarily run the EPA. In addition to Perciasepe, others being mentioned as candidates include Gina McCarthy, head of the EPA's air pollution division, and Mary D. Nichols, chairwoman of the California Air Resources Board, though she recently disavowed any such suggestion.
Republican lawmakers and others said they would insist on a replacement willing to untether industry from environmental regulations they said strangled private enterprise.
Last week, for instance, the National Assn. of Manufacturers criticized regulations requiring industrial, commercial and institutional boilers across the nation to meet new emission limits and work practice standards. Barton bemoaned Jackson's role in the EPA's declaration that carbon dioxide is a danger to public health, clearing the way for regulations under the Clean Air Act.
But many in the environmental field praised Jackson.
S. William Becker, executive director of the National Assn. of Clean Air Agencies, called her "an extraordinary leader." Larry Schweiger, president and chief executive of the National Wildlife Federation, thanked her for "her exceptional service." And Frances Beinecke, president of the Natural Resources Defense Council, said there was "no fiercer champion of our health and our environment."