Carol M. Browner, President Obama's controversial assistant for climate and energy issues, will step down soon, White House officials said Tuesday, in a move that some energy lobbyists saw as another signal that the administration wants to make amends with an alienated business community by reconsidering environmental regulation.
Many environmentalists said that, in itself, Browner's resignation does not signal a retreat from environmental protections. But both sides said they are watching closely for the White House's next steps, including whether a successor to Browner will be named, who that person is and what the mandate would be.
"Browner has been the president's clean-energy and climate conscience," wrote Frank O'Donnell, president of Clean Air Watch. "If he doesn't reach out for someone high-profile to replace her, it will appear as if those issues have become very subordinate to the re-election campaign."
C. Kyle Simpson, who was an Energy Department official in the Clinton administration and is now a lobbyist with Hogan Lovells, said: "Her departure from the administration is not going to determine what the views of industry will be. It will be who is her successor, if there is a successor."
Browner has been a lightning rod for the political right and some on the left during her two years as director of the White House Office of Energy and Climate Change Policy. Republican members of Congress balked at her appointment to a post that did not require Senate confirmation.
Some environmentalists criticized her for backing expanded offshore drilling before the Deepwater Horizon disaster last April and for her office's sometimes rosy take on the spill's effects, including a now-infamous and erroneous statement Browner made in August that most of the oil from the BP spill in the Gulf of Mexico had disappeared.
Browner and her boss failed to win congressional passage for climate-change legislation, but she helped broker a landmark agreement among the Environmental Protection Agency, the Transportation Department and the automakers to increase vehicle fuel-efficiency standards in order to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
Browner headed the EPA during the eight years of the Clinton administration.