WASHINGTON -- Anne Burford, without bitterness but fighting back tears, said Thursday she resigned as head of the Environmental Protection Agency because 'it was getting to the point where I couldn't do my job anymore.'
'I resigned because I felt I had become the issue,' Mrs. Burford said in her first public comments since her resignation. 'It's hard to lead a normal life when there are people camped in your front yard.'
Mrs. Burford told reporters jammed into the ballroom of a downtown hotel, 'I'm not a bitter person.'
But because of the controversy over the EPA's toxic waste cleanup program, 'It was getting to the point where I couldn't do my job anymore,' she said.
Mrs. Burford, 40, dubbed the 'Ice Queen' for her coolness under pressure, never cried during her 15-minute news conference but verged on tears, especially when she talked about President Reagan.
'That man is a fine man. He is right for this country. I'm proud to have worked for him and I'll be proud to work for him again,' said Mrs. Burford, wearing a lavender suit and print blouse.
Reagan accepted Mrs. Burford's resignation Wednesday, praising her 'unselfishness and personal courage.'
Asked in an interview with ABC News whether she was too loyal to the president, Mrs. Burford said, 'If I had a fault -- if I had a fault, I would like to have it be known that that fault is loyalty.'
The White House moved Thursday to put the controversy over management of the agency to rest, giving a House subcommittee boxes of confidential EPA documents Reagan previously had ordered withheld. A spokesman said the White House will be 'moving as fast as we can' to name a permanent successor.
In announcing Mrs. Burford's resignation, the White House said Reagan would turn over to a House subcommittee the documents that may support allegations of mismanagement, political favoritism and conflicts of interest in the EPA's $1.6 billion Superfund toxic waste cleanup program.
Mrs. Burford defended her two-year record as head of the EPA.
'I'm proud of the job the agency has performed,' she said. 'We have a solid record of achievement that will stand the test of time.'
Asked whether she was a scapegoat, Mrs. Burford said: 'I've never claimed victimization and I'm not going to claim it now.'
The former Colorado state legislator and corporate attorney from Denver would not say what job she will seek next. The White House said she will be named to a part-time position on a commission or board.
When asked of her plans, she was interrupted by her husband, Robert, director of the Interior Department's Bureau of Land Management.
'Take a honeymoon, that's what she'd like to do,' he said.
The couple was married Feb. 20 at the height of the controversy. Mrs. Burford immediately went to Times Beach, Mo., to announce the government's buyout of a town contaminated by dioxin.
Mrs. Burford was held in contempt of Congress Dec. 16 for following Reagan's orders and refusing to give agency files to Congress.
Rep. John Dingell, D-Mich., chairman of the Energy and Commerce oversight subcommittee, received two boxes of documents from EPA officials on Capitol Hill and took them into a closed-door subcommittee meeting.
'Nobody likes what happened to her,' one White House aide said of Mrs. Burford. But he said the prevailing attitude at the White House is, 'Let's get this behind us and take care of the business at hand.'
White House spokesmen declined to speculate on a permanent successor for Mrs. Burford. John Hernandez, deputy EPA administrator, took over as acting administrator.
'It should come as no surprise to anyone that my No. 1 priority is to get this agency back to work,' Hernandez told reporters. 'I intend to begin immediately the task of restoring the public's faith in what I have always maintained is an exceptional agency.'
The names that surfaced included Hernandez, James Mahoney, executive vice president of Environmental Research and Technology Inc. of Concord, Mass.,; William Ruckelshaus, EPA chief in the Nixon administration; Washington lawyer Henry Diamond, once New York's top environmental official; John Quarles, deputy EPA administrator in the Nixon and Ford administrations.
Communications director David Gergen said there is no timetable for announcing a successor, but, 'I think there's interest in moving as fast as we can on it.'
The talent search is being handled by White House personnel director Helene von Damm, who said the number of candidates was 'under 10' but indicated her staff was continuing to receive names. 'We have a thoughtful process going on,' she said. 'It's extremely important that just the right person be selected, so we can't rush it.'
Interior Secretary James Watt, a close friend who accompanied Mrs. Burford to her resignation meeting with Reagan, was asked if her resignation was forced.
'She, of course, had a choice, as the president's comments indicate,' he told reporters.
Mrs. Burford and the Superfund program are being investigated by six congressional subcommittees and the Justice Department on such allegations as making 'sweetheart deals' with polluters, using the program for political ends, perjury in congressional testimony, and destruction of subpoeonaed documents in agency paper shredders.
Committee chairmen promised to continue their investigation, taking advantage of the compromise reached between Dingell and the White House to get documents.
'We are going to keep going with the investigation,' said Rep. James Howard, D-N.J., chairman of the Public Works Committee. 'This is bigger than one person.'