Top Pruitt aide who was banned from banking sector out at EPA

Top Pruitt aide who was banned from banking sector out at EPA
© Greg Nash

Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Scott PruittEdward (Scott) Scott PruittOvernight Energy: Trump officials suspend oil, gas production on Utah plots after lawsuit | California bucks Trump on lightbulb rollback | Scientists join Dems in panning EPA's 'secret science' rule Scientists join Democrats in panning EPA's 'secret science' rule Overnight Energy: BLM staff face choice of relocation or resignation as agency moves | Trump says he's 'very much into climate' | EPA rule would expand limits on scientific studies MORE’s top Superfund adviser is leaving the agency amid increasing scrutiny.

Kelly resigned Tuesday, EPA confirmed.

Albert Kelly was hired to lead the Superfund program last year but has been under fire almost from the start for his lack of a scientific background and his own financial history.

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It was first reported last December that Kelly was banned from working in the banking sector for life. Pruitt hired Kelly last year as an adviser for the Superfund program, shortly before the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. (FDIC) settled unknown allegations against Kelly by banning him from banking.

Kelly used to lead SpiritBank, based in Pruitt’s hometown of Tulsa, Okla. The two have known each other for years, and Kelly got Pruitt financing for a mortgage and to help buy a minor league baseball team.

Lawmakers have increasingly pushed against Kelly's appointment at the agency. Members pressed Pruitt in front of House committee hearing last week for Kelly to appear before them to answer questions about his banking past. Rep. Scott PetersScott H. PetersFreer housing is 'fairer housing' — HUD should tie funding to looser zoning How to kickstart a rapid global warming slowdown Mass shootings have hit 158 House districts so far this year MORE (D-Calif.) asked Pruitt if he would produce Kelly in front of the House Appropriations subcommittee on environment for the point of "transparency.

Pruitt responded: "I’m not standing in the way of Mr. Kelly of providing information in front of this committee or any other committee. It's a decision he can make."

Earlier in the week two House Democrats — Reps. Don Beyer (Va.) and Gerry ConnollyGerald (Gerry) Edward ConnollyDemocrat unveils bill requiring banks to identify suspicious activity related to guns Brindisi, Lamb recommended for Armed Services, Transportation Committees Overnight Defense: Protests at Trump's NYC Veterans Day speech | House Dems release Pentagon official's deposition transcript | Lawmakers ask Trump to rescind Erdogan invite MORE (Va.) — sent a letter to the EPA internal watchdog asking for an investigation into Kelly.

"Mr. Kelly came to this position without the necessary qualifications, and with serious and still-unexplained red flags, and his conduct has raised ethical, regulatory and potential legal issues that we believe your office should examine,” the lawmakers wrote.

Kelly has worked to downplay the banking ban, telling the Montana Standard in early April that the FDIC ban was related to a 2010 transaction and had nothing to do with his business dealings with Pruitt.

“My problem with the FDIC emanated from one singular transaction in 2010. They didn't like it,” Kelly told the Standard. “The bank didn't lose any money. The bank made money. There was nothing untoward about it."

Pruitt, who has made cleaning up Superfunds a top priority, said that Kelly had a "tremendous impact" on the program.

“Kell Kelly’s service at EPA will be sorely missed. In just over a year he has made a tremendous impact on EPA’s Superfund program, serving as chair of the Superfund Task Force and presiding over the development of the steps necessary to implement the recommendations in the report," Pruitt said in a statement. "While Kell’s departure is one that will be felt across the Agency, a strong staff of dedicated professionals will continue this valuable work."

Pruitt said Peter Wright, the nominee for associate administrator in the Office of Land and Emergency Management, will work to fill his shoes.

Pruitt himself has been at the center of several scandals related to his personal spending at the agency, particularly on first-class travel and a large security team.

Kelly’s departure comes a day after Pruitt's head of security resigned and just weeks after Samantha Dravis, another top aide, abruptly left the agency.

President TrumpDonald John TrumpTrump opens new line of impeachment attack for Democrats Bloomberg to spend 0M on anti-Trump ads in battleground states New witness claims first-hand account of Trump's push for Ukraine probes MORE has continued to defend Pruitt amid the controversies. White House Legislative Director Marc Short said last month Trump has full confidence in the administrator.

This story was updated 11:51 a.m.