White House Council on Environmental Quality Chairwoman Nancy Sutley will step down in February, marking the almost complete turnover of President Obama's top environment and energy officials.
Sutley, appointed at the outset of Obama's presidency, has kept a lower political profile than some other top officials. But she played a crucial role in several major administration policies, the White House said.
The White House has not yet named Sutley's replacement.
Obama, in a statement, thanked Sutley for her five years with the White House, calling her a vital part of such policies as the second-term climate agenda he rolled out in June.
"As one of my top advisers, Nancy has played a central role in overseeing many of our biggest environmental accomplishments, including establishing historic new fuel-economy standards that will save consumers money, new national monuments that permanently protect sites unique to our country's rich history and natural heritage, our first comprehensive National Ocean Policy, and our Climate Action Plan that will help leave our children a safer, healthier planet," he said.
Sutley is the latest long-serving environmental official to leave the Obama administration. Obama's first-term Environmental Protection Agency administrator, Lisa Jackson, left early this year, and the second term has also brought new secretaries of Energy and the Interior.
More recently, top White House climate and energy aide Heather Zichal left in November.
The Washington Post reported in October that White House officials, in an effort to get Zichal to stick around, raised the possibility of her taking the CEQ job, but she declined.
Sutley's next moves aren't yet clear.
"She's planning to return to her home in Los Angeles for a well-earned break before pursuing other opportunities in the environment and energy arena," a CEQ aide said.
Sutley was deputy mayor for energy and environment in Los Angeles when Obama tapped her to run CEQ, an agency that plays a major role coordinating environmental policy among federal agencies.
Earlier in her career, Sutley held jobs including energy adviser to former California Gov. Gray Davis and deputy secretary for policy and intergovernmental relations at the California EPA from 1999-2003, according to a White House bio.
She worked for EPA in the Clinton administration as a senior policy adviser to the regional administrator in San Francisco and special assistant to then-EPA Administrator Carol Browner. Browner and Sutley would later reunite in the Obama administration, where Browner served as Obama's energy and climate czar before departing in 2011.
Sutley has not had the profile of James Connaughton, her George W. Bush-era predecessor at CEQ, who was the public point person for several Bush initiatives.
In an interview, Browner called Sutley a team player and said she had a major hand in a number of initiatives, including Obama administration efforts to make the federal government itself more environmentally sustainable.
Obama issued an executive order in 2009 requiring reductions in federal greenhouse-gas emissions, improvement in waste management and recycling, and other steps to get greener. The federal government has cut its greenhouse-gas emissions by more than 15 percent with these initiatives, the White House said.
Sutley played a vital role in putting the plans into practice, Browner said. "She really was the force behind ... that and deserves a huge amount of credit," said Browner, who also applauded Sutley's work on national-monument designations.
Obama also praised Sutley's efforts to curb the federal government's environmental footprint.
"Under her leadership, federal agencies are meeting the goals I set for them at the beginning of the administration by using less energy, reducing pollution, and saving taxpayer dollars. Her efforts have made it clear that a healthy environment and a strong economy aren't mutually exclusive—they can go hand in hand," he said.
Ken Salazar, Obama's first-term Interior Secretary, credited Sutley with advancing conservation through work on national-monument designations and the multiagency "America's Great Outdoors" initiative created in 2010.
"When historians look back at her time at CEQ, they will be able to say she was very effective in informing and advancing the president's conservation agenda," he said in an interview.
"Nancy's personality is that she is a workhorse, not a show horse, and she labored in the detail of things to get things done," Salazar said.
Amy Harder contributed to this article.
This article appears in the December 4, 2013 edition of NJ Daily.