Who is responsible for cleaning up N.J.'s toxic sites? A toxic banker | Editorial

There are roughly 114 Superfund sites in New Jersey, and the Trump Administration official tasked with overseeing the remediation of these toxic areas - along with a $3.3 billion account used to fund the cleanup - is a corrupt former banker who was banned from banking by the FDIC.

If you're still confused about how this All The Best People campaign is supposed to work, join the club.

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 - including the community bank his family has operated since the 1930s.

Regulators determined that Kelly violated unspecified laws and regulations, and demonstrated "unfitness to serve as a director, officer, person participating in the conduct of the affairs or as an institution-affiliated party of the Bank, (or) any other insured depository institution."

So Pruitt put him in charge of Superfund, because the two men are political allies from the crumbling, dysfunctional petro-state of Oklahoma, a Choctaw term for Land of Daily Earthquakes.

Or maybe it because he values Kelly's friendship and campaign donations in a pay-to-play way that would make New Jerseyans blush.

According to a report in The Intercept, Kelly's Tulsa-area bank had given Pruitt three mortgage loans totaling $973,000 starting in 2004, when Pruitt was making $38,000 as an Oklahoma State Senator with no assets but a starter home and a stay-at-home wife.

Then the bank financed the purchase of a $6.8 million minor league baseball team by Pruitt and his business partners.

(Pause here for footnote: Years after those sweetheart loans, when he was Oklahoma attorney general in 2012, Pruitt rejected mortgage relief for foreclosures left in the ashes of the Great Recession - the only AG in the U.S. to turn down federal assistance that could have kept people in their homes.)

Anyway, the friendship borne of Kelly's largesse qualified him for a crucial environmental post and a $172,000 job that does not require Senate confirmation.

And it puts a disgraced banker near public funds that he has no business touching. His SpiritBank sank under a pile of troubled assets (mostly subprime mortgages) and it was never able to reimburse the government for its TARP bailout, leaving taxpayers losing 70 percent of the funds they laid out to save it.

Let Rep. Frank Pallone, D-6th Dist., cut to the chase: "Billions of dollars move through these (Superfund) accounts. These funds should not be entrusted to someone who has been barred from working for every financial institution from credit unions to Wall Street banks," he said.

That's what Pallone told Pruitt in a letter dated Sept. 19th, a letter that asked the EPA director what he is doing to prevent Kelly from controlling cleanup funds.

It's hard to know whether Kelly is doing anything at all, actually.

Put it this way: "Scott Pruitt is gutting the EPA every day," said Judith Enck, the former EPA Regional Administrator. "The one program he has said he does not want to dismantle is Superfund, but he does not appear to be succeeding on his singular environmental protection priority."

As Vox reported, Kelly began to consult EPA staffers in June, only to abruptly end the process to produce a cleanup plan "that altered or excluded many of the staffers' suggestions."

Meanwhile, Pallone has waited four months for a response from Pruitt, 53 million Americans live within three miles of a Superfund site, and Kelly still has a job in the federal government.

Your democracy. Cherish it

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