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Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Lisa P. Jackson announced Thursday that she will resign from her post, reportedly over her split with President Obama on the controversial Keystone XL pipeline.

Jackson, who had served as commissioner of the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection before President Obama tapped her as his chief environmental officer in 2008, said in a statement that she leaves the EPA “confident the ship is sailing in the right direction.”

According to a report in BuzzFeed, however, Jackson left in large part due to her differences with the White House over the proposed Keystone XL pipeline. Keystone XL would be an extension to the existing pipeline carrying synthetic crude oil from Canada to refineries in Illinois, Oklahoma, and the Gulf Coast of Texas. Critics of the pipeline contend that it could raise gas prices and have a devastating effect on the environment. The existing section of the Keystone pipeline had 12 spills in its first year of existence (one of which dumped 14,000 gallons of oil in North Dakota), and the XL extension could have even worse consequences. In May, University of Nebraska professor John Stansbury told The National Memo that he estimated the Keystone XL pipeline could have 91 “significant” spills over a 50-year lifecycle, with a worst-case scenario spill dumping 7.9 million gallons of oil into the Nebraska Sandhills above the Ogalla Aquifer.

The pipeline became a hot-button political issue during the presidential election, when President Obama rejected TransCanada’s initial proposal to build the pipeline pending “a full assessment” of its impact, but later authorized the construction of its southern portion — over the strenuous objections of environmentalists. “Today, we’re making this new pipeline from Cushing to the gulf a priority,” the president declared during a March press conference announcing his support for the project.

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

“If the president comes out for it, she would be expected to support it,” Tittel said. “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.”

A second source within the Obama administration confirmed to BuzzFeed that Keystone was the cause of Jackson’s departure, although spokespeople for the White House and the EPA denied the report.

Jackson had other differences with the president during her four years running the EPA, most notably over Obama’s refusal to tighten the national standards for smog; League of Conservation Voters president Gene Karpinski called the move “the worst thing a Democratic president had ever done on our issues.”

Whatever the reason for Jackson’s departure, the focus now turns to her potential replacements. The EPA is a top political target for Republicans, raising the possibility for a brutal confirmation fight for whoever Obama appoints. For that reason, The Wall Street Journal reports that Obama is likely to promote an internal candidate — as the Senate has already confirmed Jackson’s deputies — and he may even make a recess appointment to try to skip the battle altogether.

Photo credit: AP/Kevin Wolf, File

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