Albert Kelly, An Adviser To EPA Chief Scott Pruitt, Resigns Abruptly
RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:
Things aren't looking good for Scott Pruitt. The head of the EPA is the subject of 11 federal inquiries into questionable expenses and possible ethics violations. Last week, Pruitt told Congress he has nothing to hide, but the pressure may have been too much for some of his aides. On Tuesday, the man in charge of managing Superfund sites for the EPA quit. He stepped down. His name is Albert Kelly. He's a former banker from Oklahoma who followed Scott Pruitt to Washington, D.C. Mr. Kelly joins us now on the line.
Thank you so much for being with us this morning.
ALBERT KELLY: Thank you, Rachel.
MARTIN: Why did you decide to resign right now?
KELLY: Well, it's been a year. When I first came, I said I was going to be here for a year, and I completed that period of time. We've gotten a lot of things done. I do think that the continued barrage of press finally wears you down.
MARTIN: You were hired just as the FDIC was banning you from the banking industry, a ban that was put in place for life. And I ask about this because it's something that came up during Scott Pruitt's hearings on Capitol Hill last week. Did that spotlight on your own past professional behavior add to your decision to step down right now?
KELLY: Well, no. I think that, first of all, that's been in the news for several months. Secondly, that actually shouldn't have anything to do with the performance that we've shown at the EPA. And thirdly, the thing that never gets said is that was a matter that was - a civil matter that was a settled - it was a settlement, which is done every day, as far as settlements are concerned. So I think the fact of the matter is that if we'd focus on what we were doing at the EPA and the success that Mr. Pruitt has had, I think we'd all be a lot better off.
MARTIN: Although, the ban - the - was exceptional, a lifetime ban from banking, and I think the lawmakers were bringing it up as part of broader concerns that they have about how Scott Pruitt is running the agency and the kind of people he's bringing in. And there were questions about whether or not you were qualified for this particular job to oversee the Superfund sites. You didn't have any experience with environmental issues or public health. What do you think qualified you for the job?
KELLY: Well, you know, I think that's a - such a good question. And the reason that I would say that it's completely off base is simply because of this. Go look at the record of what we've achieved. And the fact of the matter is, the Superfund sites are all looked after by experienced professionals that are doing their job. They've been there for many years, and none of those people were displaced. My job was to try and move sites that had been stalled or sites that needed to be brought to attention like West Lake and Chicago, Portland Harbor, San Jacinto, on and on - trying to get those sites moving faster than they were, trying to give attention to them from the administrator. And that's precisely what we did.
MARTIN: Well, let me also ask you - some of Scott Pruitt's vocal critics have charged that he has used his position to create opportunities - lucrative opportunities for friends and associates. Scott Pruitt was once a client of yours, a banking client, so you might be considered to be in that group of associates. Can you see how the optics might not look good?
KELLY: First of all, I think that your original premise - I don't know - I'm really unsure what you're talking about regarding anyone that he is trying to make a lucrative opportunity for.
MARTIN: Oh, he's accused of giving promotions to close allies and friends who followed him from Oklahoma.
KELLY: I don't think there's anything to that at all. I would tell you that my relationship with Mr. Pruitt relative to banking were a few transactions, and some of which were 15 years ago. There's absolutely nothing wrong with those things. I think that what we'd see is we lose sight of the fact that Mr. Pruitt has done an exceptional job. He's done many, many things to move the president's agenda along. And if you'd go out and look, it's - just in my area of the Superfund, we opened up the EPA to everyone. We didn't open it up just to people in industry, as has been alleged.
All of the citizens, the communities where - that were next to Superfund sites - we went and met with those people. We brought them into the EPA. We said, we work for you. People who had been shut out for decades - we went out and opened that up for them. And I believe that it is a complete miscalculation and mischaracterization to say that Mr. Pruitt has done anything other than open the agency up and try and do a much better job than has been done in the past to try and say, this is a transparent organization working hard on behalf of the American people.
MARTIN: Albert Kelly is stepping down as the head of the EPA Superfund Task Force. Mr. Kelly, we appreciate you coming on this morning.
KELLY: Nice to talk with you, Rachel. Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.