Clifford Forrest and the Politics of Pollution in West Virginia

Who owns Freedom Industries, the company that leaked the 7,500 gallons of toxic chemicals into the Elk River and contaminated the drinking water supply of 300,000 residents of Charleston, West Virginia?

According to BusinessWeek magazine, that would be one James Clifford Forrest III of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

Forrest lives in the upscale Fox Chapel suburb of Pittsburgh.

How’s the drinking water there?

Forrest is a political activist — spreading his wealth to anti-regulation politicians throughout West Virginia — including $2,250 to Senator Joe Manchin (D), $500 to Governor Earl Ray Tomblin and $500 to Congresswoman Shelley Moore Capito (R).

He also donates generously to anti-regulation PACs, which in turn give to West Virginia politicians.

So, for example, Clifford Forrest donated $5,000 and his wife Tracy Forrest donated $2,000 to the Secure Energy for America PAC, which in turn in 2010 dished out $7,500 to Manchin, $2,000 to Capito, $2,400 to Congressman Nick Rahall (D).

Forrest is founder and President of Rosebud Mining Company which is the third largest underground coal producer in Pennsylvania. Rosebud employs 1,400 people in its operations in Ohio and Pennsylvania.

Rosebud has a checkered regulatory history, including facing fines and enforcement actions involving two miner deaths in Pennsylvania in 2005.

And in May 2011, Rosebud settled a lawsuit brought by Mine Safety and Health Administration accusing the company of warning underground workers ahead federal inspections.

Forrest supported Obama in 2008, but turned against him in 2012, telling Bloomberg News that if Obama was re-elected, the “war on coal” will continue and “it will be a battle for survival.”

The Forrest donations are sure to be an issue in the upcoming November elections in West Virginia.

In the Second Congressional district, Manchin’s former campaign treasurer, Nick Casey, is the presumptive Democratic nominee. In addition to the corporate Republican who will emerge from a crowded primary field, Casey will be challenged by former CBS News reporter Ed Rabel, who’s running as an independent and who places the blame for the deregulatory disaster in part on “Senator Joe Manchin and Congresswoman Shelley Moore Capito for their unconscionable apologies for coal and the company that poisoned our water, threatened our lives, and wrecked our economy” and on “law enforcement for not arresting the corporate criminals and putting them in jail.”


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