WASHINGTON - Mary Nichols, the EPA's champion of tough clean-air rules, will leave the agency next month, officials have confirmed.
Nichols, assistant EPA administrator for air and radiation since 1993, will return to California to become director of an environmental foundation, said Prudence Goforth, a Nichols aide.
'We wish her well,' said Richard Klimisch, vice president for engineering at the American Automobile Manufacturers Association. 'We hope the new person is as knowledgeable and accessible as she was.'
Marchant Wentworth, consultant to the American Lung Association - the group that pushed hardest for the newly imposed but still controversial rules on ozone and small particle pollution - called Nichols' departure a 'loss.'
He said Nichols, 52, was especially good at diffusing the anger and bitterness that Congress sometimes directs at the EPA when the agency does its job.
He said she will be missed when 'fire fights' break out in Congress over the new rules.
Before coming to the EPA, Nichols was director of the Los Angeles office of the Natural Resources Defense Council.
She served pre- viously as chairwoman of the California Air Resources Board and as California secretary of environmental affairs, and she practiced environmental law.
Dick Wilson, her deputy at EPA, is expected to serve as acting assistant administrator until a replacement is nominated and confirmed.
Early speculation is focused on Christophe Tulou, chief environmental official in Delaware.