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Whitman expected to resign

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Posted on Thu, Dec. 12, 2002

Whitman expected to resign EPA post

By SETH BORENSTEIN

Knight Ridder Newspapers

WASHINGTON - Although her office strongly denies it, agency insiders, Capitol Hill staff and environmental groups expect Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Christine Whitman to leave her job soon.

Whitman, a former New Jersey governor and a high-profile Republican moderate, has been a green-friendly face on President Bush's environmental team, but shA¯0hafed at the administration's pro-development policies. Among the signs of her imminent departure, EPA watchers say, are:

She isn't setting any appointments for meetings after Jan. 1, according to people in the EPA, on Capitol Hill and in environmental organizations. However, the EPA's chief spokesman, Joe Martyak, denies that, saying a scheduling session Tuesday committed Whitman to meetings as far out as April and May.

She has told staffers who followed her from New Jersey that they should think about looking for new jobs, insiders say. Martyak denies it.

Eileen McGinnis, Whitman's chief of staff, resigned effective Dec. 31 and is returning to New Jersey, Whitman told EPA staff members last week. But Martyak said McGinnis had taken the job on the condition that she could return home after two years.

Martyak said the rumors are wrong. Whitman "has absolutely no plans about leaving, but she has a lot of plans about how to continue getting the job done," he said.

Nevertheless, the buzz in Washington's environmental-policy community only grows louder. In the most common scenario, Whitman is expected to take an ambassadorship. That would permit her to walk away from the EPA without abandoning Bush, and would let the White House cast her departure as a promotion for a deserving team player. Whitman's associates say she loves foreign policy and has a strong sense of loyalty to Bush.

Russell Train, the EPA's second administrator, under Republican Presidents Nixon and Ford, said he had heard that Whitman wanted to leave but was talked into staying until after last month's elections.

"There's a lot of demoralization in the agency today, and the White House seems to be calling most of the tunes as far as regulatory matters," Train said.

Rumors of Whitman's impending departure are so widespread that "at some point it does affect the effectiveness of the agency," said Bob Perciasepe, a former assistant EPA chief under President Clinton.

"Everybody I've talked to has heard the rumors," said Debbie Sease, the Sierra Club's legislative director. She predicts a Christmas Eve announcement of Whitman's departure, because the Bush administration often discloses environmental news on days when few people are paying attention.

However, officials in business lobbies and regulated industries - who often are closer to the White House than environmental groups are - downplay suggestions that Whitman is about to jump ship.

"I've heard for six years that (Whitman's predecessor Carol) Browner was going to leave, and I've heard for the last year that Whitman was going to leave, and it never happened, so I just dismissed the story," said Bill Kovacs, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce vice president for environment and energy affairs.

Whitman has taken a lot of heat from environmental groups because as EPA director she is easing strict air-pollution regulations and global-warming measures that she had supported when she was governor of New Jersey. From the other side, conservatives have chastised her for her early emphasis on the need to fight global warming and for recent EPA documents charting the severity of climate change.

Even as Whitman still holds her position, three names are being floated throughout Washington as her possible successors: auto industry lobbyist Josephine Cooper, retiring Michigan Gov. John Engler and Florida Environmental Protection Secretary David Struhs.

Cooper is a former assistant EPA administrator for external affairs under President Reagan. She is now president of the Washington-based Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers. In 1979 she worked for Dick Cheney when he was a Wyoming congressman. She has served as a vice president of the American Forest & Paper Association and the Synthetic Organic Chemical Manufacturers Association, two industries that often are at odds with EPA regulations.

Engler, a three-term conservative Republican governor, is leaving the top job in Michigan next month because of term limits. His environmental tenure in Michigan is ending with a controversial last-minute easing of state standards for the carcinogen dioxin.

Struhs is Florida Gov. Jeb Bush's environment chief and a former top environmental regulator in Massachusetts. He is also the brother-in-law of President Bush's chief of staff, Andrew Card.

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