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WASHINGTON -- Christie Whitman, often at odds with the Bush White House over environmental issues and a lightning rod for the administration's critics, resigned Wednesday as head of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
Whitman said in a letter to President Bush, made available to the press by the EPA, that she was leaving to spend time with family.
"As rewarding as the past two-and-a-half years have been for me professionally, it is time to return to my home and husband in New Jersey, which I love just as you do your home state of Texas," she wrote Bush.
With Whitman's departure as EPA administrator, Bush loses one of the most prominent women in his Cabinet -- a moderate former New Jersey governor selected by the president to help soften his image as a political conservative, particularly on environmental issues, the Associated Press reported. Whitman had a history of clashing with the White House, starting with the president's abrupt decision to withdraw from the international global warming treaty. She had been the administration's point person in rolling back environmental protections initiated by previous administrations.
As his re-election campaign gears up, Bush's senior staff and advisers consider the next few months as optimum time to leave the government; otherwise, they will be expected to remain aboard until after the 2004 election. White House press secretary Ari Fleischer announced Monday that he will resign in July.
Whitman, a former New Jersey governor, said her resignation is effective June 27. She met with Bush at the White House on Tuesday afternoon to inform him of her decision, the agency said. In her letter, she defended the administration's environmental policies, which have been under attack by environmentalists as a series of rollbacks in protecting the nation's air, water and land.
"Our work has been guided by the strong belief that environmental protection and economic prosperity can and must go hand-in-hand," she wrote. "The EPA has built an enviable record of success that will result in significant improvements to the state of our nation's treasured environment."
She pointed to initiatives to reduce pollution from off-road diesel engines, a push to cut pollution from school buses and "our aggressive and effective efforts to enforce the nation's environmental laws."
Whitman joined the administration after seven years as governor of New Jersey, where she made preservation a priority but never managed to convince environmentalists she was one of them.