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EPA's Whitman submits resignation letter

'It is time to return to my home'

Christie Whitman says in a letter to President Bush that
Christie Whitman says in a letter to President Bush that "environmental protection and economic prosperity" can and should go hand-in-hand.

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EPA administrator Christie Todd Whitman announces her resignation. CNN's Bruce Morton reports (May 21)
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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Christie Whitman, sometimes cast as a lone voice on Bush environmental matters, announced Wednesday she will soon step down as administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency.

In her resignation letter posted on the EPA's Web site, the former New Jersey governor cited a desire to spend more time with her family. Her resignation will be effective June 27.

"I am proud of the work this agency has done and of the contributions it has made to the success of your administration," Whitman, 56, said in a letter addressed to President Bush and dated May 20. "... It has been a true honor to be able to lead this agency as it worked to implement the innovative, effective environmental policies to which you are so clearly committed." (Text of letter)

Whitman is the most prominent woman to leave the administration.

In a statement, Bush praised Whitman, saying she "served my administration exceptionally well."

Environmentalists have long suggested Whitman was unhappy with the White House over several key environmental policies, but she has steadfastly said she was happy in her work.

In a statement, Sierra Club Executive Director Carl Pope said Whitman was often at odds with the Bush administration on policy matters.

"Under the circumstances, Christie Whitman did the best she could at the EPA, but the Bush administration simply wouldn't allow her to do the job," Pope said. As an example, he cited what he described as a broken campaign pledge by Bush to curb carbon dioxide emissions.

And National Environment Trust President Philip E. Clapp said, "Whitman must feel like her own long national nightmare is finally over."

But, in an interview with CNN, Whitman insisted that was not the case.

"I'm not leaving because of clashes with the administration; in fact, I haven't had any," she said. "There's always give and take ... The president has always wanted my unadulterated opinion and that doesn't mean that you're having a battle about it."

Whitman said Bush was "very gracious" when she approached him about her decision and "indicated he wished I would stay but understood my reasons for leaving."

In her resignation letter, Whitman gives no hint of displeasure and highlights what she describes as the administration's successful efforts to clean the country'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, that the true measure of the value of any environmental policy is in the environmental results it produces," she wrote.

Whitman, a once-rising political star in GOP circles, said she wanted to "take a little time for myself" and had "no plans to run for any office" -- although she didn't rule it out.

"As you know in this business, you never say never to anything," she said.

U.S. officials characterized her departure as routine and noted that Bush has had remarkably low turnover in senior positions.

"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," Whitman said in her resignation letter.

Cabinet officials and other senior staffers have been encouraged to leave by this summer if they do not wish to stay on through the 2004 campaign year so that Bush does not have to deal with high-level staff and agency appointments in the heat of an election season.

The officials cast Whitman's decision in this light and noted she had always said she did not envision staying in Washington for too long.

White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer cited the coming campaign in his decision to resign effective this summer.(Full story)

--Senior White House Correspondent John King contributed to this report.

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