WASHINGTON -- EPA Administrator Lisa P. Jackson said Thursday that she is 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 in bitter partisan fights with Republican lawmakers and industry executives.
The first African-American to hold the position, and a chemical engineer by training, Ms. Jackson gave no signal on what she plans to do next. But sources close to Ms. Jackson, 50, hinted that she may 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.
At the White House, President Barack Obama praised Ms. Jackson for her "unwavering commitment to the health of our families and our children." He said she has been instrumental in implementing standards to reduce mercury pollution and fuel economy standards to bring down gas pump prices. "Lisa has been an important part of my team," the president said.
Reaction was largely muted among industry leaders and Republican lawmakers, as they instead viewed the Environmental Protection Agency opening as a rare opportunity to push back on many 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," Oklahoma Sen. Jim Inhofe, senior Republican on the Environment and Public Works Committee, said in a statement. "However, I have always appreciated her receptivity to my concerns." Now, he said, her leaving "provides President Obama with an opportunity to appoint an EPA administrator who appreciates the needs of our economy."
Texas Rep. Joe Barton, 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."
Ms. Jackson told the president after his November re-election that she no longer wanted to continue running the agency, and suggested that she would be gone after his State of the Union address in January.
In speaking to her staff Thursday, she recalled telling Mr. Obama four years ago about the need to address climate change, as well as other issues such as air pollution, toxic chemicals and waste-site cleanups. But the president backed away from major climate-change efforts, as well as other issues such as ozone pollution, leading to reports of tension between her and the White House. Nevertheless, Ms. Jackson said in her statement, "I leave the EPA confident the ship is sailing in the right direction."
Deputy Administrator Robert Perciasepe will temporarily run the EPA. In addition to him, others being mentioned as candidates include Gina McCarthy, head of the EPA's air pollution division, and Mary D. Nichols, chairman of the California Air Resources Board, though she recently disavowed any such suggestion.
Whomever Mr. Obama offers as a replacement, GOP lawmakers and others said they will insist on someone willing to untether industry from environmental regulations they said strangle private enterprise. Mr. Barton gave an example, saying Ms, Jackson pushed through a new finding that carbon dioxide is a hazardous material that can be regulated under the Clean Air Act.