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Pruitt’s Superfund Czar Stiffs House Hearing on Cleanup Program’s Future

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For Immediate Release: 
Wednesday, January 17, 2018

WASHINGTON – Albert “Kell” Kelly, the federally sanctioned ex-banker put in charge of the Superfund program despite having no environmental qualifications, has backed out of testifying before a key House hearing on the program’s future, according to well-placed congressional sources.

Kelly, a close friend and financial patron of Environmental Protection Agency chief Scott Pruitt, cited a “scheduling conflict” with Thursday’s hearing by the House Environment and Commerce Committee on the future of the toxic waste cleanup program, the sources said. EWG President Ken Cook said Kelly’s decision to not tell Congress about his and Pruitt’s strategy for cleaning up the nation’s most toxic communities is irresponsible and evasive.

“Congress has a duty to question not only how someone who has zero experience in environmental science or policy was put in charge of this crucial program, but also why he can’t find the time to testify at an important hearing on the future direction of the program,” said Cook. “Most, if not all, members of the committee represent districts where there are abandoned toxic waste dumps. They should press Kelly about what he’s done so far and his strategy to clean up these dangerous sites that millions of Americans live near.”

Pruitt put Kelly in charge of Superfund after he was banned for life from the banking industry. A consent order from the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request by The Intercept shows that Kelly agreed last May to pay a fine of $125,000 over allegations that he violated federal banking laws as an executive at his family owned SpiritBank in Oklahoma. He is forbidden from ever working in the banking and financial services industry again.

Kelly’s only connection to the EPA and the vital role it plays in protecting communities from pollution is his years-long relationship with Pruitt. Kelly and his bank gave Pruitt a steady stream of sizeable loans to purchase personal property and a controlling share of a minor league baseball team.

A recent editorial in the Houston Chronicle –  Pollution Threatens Houston, But Political Cronyism Comes First – makes a strong case as to why Kelly is uniquely unfit to lead the EPA’s efforts to clean up the more than 1,300 Superfund sites across the country. The Chronicle said: 

Our lives and health are being put in the hands of Albert Kelly, a man whose qualifications for the job seem limited to his relationship with Pruitt.

Kelly has no serious experience in environmental policy or management. However, he does have experience shortchanging taxpayers. Under Kelly's leadership, his Tulsa-based SpiritBank suffered significant losses and was bailed out by the federal government.

The Superfund program is one of the most daunting and complicated initiatives at the EPA, as the Chronicle’s editorial lays out.  It requires an enormous level of coordination between agency staff and state and local governments, community organizations and the companies responsible for the contamination.

The Chronicle’s editorial board wrote:

If he's unfit to work at a bank, then Kelly should also be considered unfit to help clean up the banks of the San Jacinto River.

The editorial board for the Star-Ledger in New Jersey, home to more Superfund sites than any other state, also did not hold back its ire over Pruitt’s choice of Kelly:

Even for Scott Pruitt, the chief vandal at the EPA, it was an extraordinary act of arrogance to appoint his personal banker, Albert Kelly, as Special Advisor in charge of Superfund. Just five months ago, the FDIC fined Kelly $125,000 and banned him from going anywhere near other people's money ...  

Among the many pollutants that plague a number of Superfund sites and put neighboring families at risk are lead, which at the lowest levels can permanently damage children’s brains, and the notorious carcinogens asbestos and 1,4-dioxane.

“The person running Superfund should have a breadth of experience in environmental remediation, navigating the bureaucracies of every level of government, and juggling the concerns and complications that often arise with this important work,” Cook said. “Kelly’s resume shows that he has none of these qualifications.”

In most administrations, Kelly’s utter lack of experience and his eviction from the banking industry by the FDIC would be an immediate disqualifier for such an important job. But this is the Trump White House, which specializes in finding exquisitely unfit individuals for top jobs.

“The task of cleaning up neighborhoods heavily contaminated with some of the most dangerous pollutants known to man should only be entrusted to someone with a fundamental understanding of how to do this very difficult job. That isn’t Albert Kelly,” Cook added.

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