Obama’s EPA administrator is resigning in part over her opposition to a forthcoming decision to issue a permit to construct the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline, according to two sources familiar with the situation, reports BuzzFeed Politics. After the White House blocked EPA’s health-science-based smog pollution rule, and given Obama’s slow walk on dealing with climate change, was this the last straw for Lisa Jackson — losing an internal battle against Keystone XL, and the prospect of being corrupted by having to voice support for Obama in approving it? Hopefully, in the future she will choose to tell the inside story of administration decisionmaking during Obama 1.0.

December 27 post: EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson resignation

From BuzzFeed Politics: Top Obama Environmental Official Departs “Frustrated” Over Pipeline, Inaction On Climate

Environmental Protection Administration Administrator Lisa Jackson, who had served as New Jersey’s top environmental official, had been handed a far less ambitious agenda on issues surrounding climate change after opposition from states reliant on burning coal for electricity proved a damaging political issue for Democrats in 2010. The pipeline project, bitterly opposed by environmental activists, was one of environmentalists’ largest disappointments.

Jackson “left as a matter of conscience,” said Jeff Tittel, the director of New Jersey’s Sierra Club chapter and a longtime friend of Jackson’s. The EPA Administrator “has too much principle to support [the pipeline], between the climate impacts of it and the water quality impacts of it.”

President Obama initially delayed Keystone’s progress, but this March authorized the construction of its Southern portion over howls from his former allies in the movement to stop carbon emissions.

“If the president comes out for it, she would be expected to support it,” said Tittel. “Whether they told her or not, that’s how it works. She was the person who pushed the hardest for the moratorium on the pipeline and now she’s leaving.” …

“It was all about Keystone for the last 16 months,” said the former senior Obama administration official, who said Jackson’s opposition to the project — and her defeat in internal arguments — meant that her colleagues had assumed she would leave after the November election, before she would be forced to work on any element of the implementation of Keystone. …

Jackson reportedly weighed resignation last year after Obama backed away from EPA-proposed ozone pollution standards, but ultimately “abandoned the idea as a futile gesture,” according to the New York Times.

But the controversial TransCanada pipeline project has become the rallying point of environmental dissatisfaction with Obama. …

Although the pipeline decision was not Jackson’s or the EPA’s to approve — the State Department alone has the authority to issue presidential permits for cross-border pipelines — Jackson was an active member of talks on Keystone. In June of 2011, the EPA said a State Department analysis of the project was “insufficient,” highlighting its concern over “potential environmental impacts.”

I expect there are multiple factors influencing Jackson’s decision to leave EPA at this time, but I think it’s likely that dissatisfaction with White House leadership on climate change and some key environmental policy issues played a significant role.

Unfortunately, Washington lacks a tradition of ‘principled resignation‘ by leading government officials, in which they state publicly at the time of their departure their disagreement with the leadership as the reason for leaving. The Washington tradition is to maintain public silence on internal disagreements within the administration — don’t burn bridges, don’t appear disloyal to your former leader or boss — instead, say you want to seek out new challenges, and/or to spend more time with your family — sort of a nation’s capital version of omerta vis-a-vis communicating with the public (to put it a bit harshly).

One exception to this rule was Richard Clarke, the counterterrorism czar under Clinton and Bush-Cheney. He resigned when the U.S. invaded Iraq, a war he had opposed, and wrote a memoir, Against All Enemies: Inside America’s War on Terror, in which he told the story of the Bush Administration’s failure on counterterrorism policy. In the book, he named names of how administration officials at the highest levels avoided and played down the Al Qaeda problem and how they spun up a warmaking policy on Iraq. Clarke generally spared the middle-level career officials, except to praise some of their contributions. He trained his fire on the political higher-ups. Not to endorse everything about Clarke, but in this particular respect I took him as something of a model in my approach to whistleblowing.

Christine Todd Whitman, who served as EPA Administrator from 2001-2003 under the Bush Administration, resigned due to conflicts with administration policy. She said diplomatic things on departing, but later told the story of Vice-President Cheney’s undermining of environmental policy.

In an interview in 2007, Whitman stated that Vice President Dick Cheney’s insistence on easing air pollution controls, not the personal reasons she cited at the time, led to her resignation. At the time, he pushed the EPA to institute a new rule allowing large polluting plants to make major alterations without installing costly new pollution controls. Refusing to sign off on the new rule, Whitman announced her resignation. Whitman decided that President Bush should have an EPA administrator willing to defend the new rule in court, which she could not bring herself to do. Federal judges later overturned the new rule, saying it violated the Clean Air Act.

I have considerable respect for Lisa Jackson and the job she has done under difficult circumstances, with EPA under relentless siege from the direction of Capitol Hill and not fully supported by the White House political and communication operations. She has shown courage and backbone. I hope she moves into a position — in academia, or in a think tank — where she feels free to do some hard-core truth-telling, and that at some point in the not-too-distant future she will use that freedom to give us her inside story of how the Obama White House has dealt with decisionmaking and communication on climate change and other issues relevant to her tenure at EPA. And when she names names, we hope they include candid assessments of David Axelrod, Rahm Emanuel, William Daley, Cass Sunstein, perhaps Carol Browner, and a few others. That would be a story worth hearing. (My thought also applies to White House science adviser John Holdren, when he decides it’s time to go back to Harvard.)

Perhaps, as an independent citizen, if she speaks out sooner rather than later, she can play a positive role in stepping up pressure on the White House to move to a climate and energy policy commensurate with the importance and urgency of the challenge.

Earlier posts:

We haven’t forgotten about the Keystone XL pipeline

Still drunk on oil: Obama’s speech in Cushing

What to do when the White House sets science aside?

White House energy policy talk has ‘all of the above’ except climate change

Message to enviro groups: No more co-optation by Obama on climate change