The more one learns about Jimmy Haslam, the harder it is to believe that the truck stop magnate didn’t purchase the Cleveland Browns with an acute awareness of Dan Gilbert’s success in leveraging the public trust of a local major professional sporting franchise for private gain at the ballot box.
Of course in the Cavaliers owner’s case it was the most expensive election campaign in Ohio history that led to the narrow passage of Issue 3 in November 2009, granting Gilbert an effective monopoly on casino gaming in the State of Ohio. Gilbert’s Issue 3 win came at the peak of LeBron James’ tenure with the Cavs. Before it, Ohio voters had soundly rejected each of four casino gaming measures that appeared on the ballot since 1990. Now Gilbert is well on his way to becoming an international casino gaming mogul, with business now underway in Detroit, Kentucky, Baltimore, and Toronto, as well as “online.”
And if the privatization and normalization of subsidized money traps for poor people wasn’t bad enough, along comes Haslam with something worse: “Several levels of excitement” for “the [fracking] boom taking place in the country;” referring to the toxic horizontal drilling process by which oil and gas is procured from shale rock (more formally known as hydraulic fracturing), and implicating attendant environmental issues increasingly pertinent to voters in Ohio and worldwide.
We already knew that Haslam’s Pilot Flying J chain of truck stop/filling stations, the country’s sixth largest privately held business with $30+ billion in revenues in 2012, is “the No. 1 [fuel] supplier to the drilling and fracking [industries] in the U.S.A.” And there was already plenty of reason to believe that Haslam and his cohorts are on the wrong side of the exploitation of deregulation at its absolute worst, aggressively privatizing and manipulating environmental resources for profit without a scientific consensus, let alone a political one, that they aren’t doing irretrievable damage in the process. Like for instance by:
- contribut[ing] to groundwater contamination, including 219 cases in Pennsylvania alone;
- turn[ing] massive amounts of fresh, drinkable water into massive amounts of briny, poisonous flowback fluid for which there is no fail-safe disposal solution;
- vent[ing] hazardous air pollutants that are associated with cancer, asthma, heart attack, stroke and preterm birth;
- releas[ing] radioactive substances—including radon, which is the number two cause of lung cancer—and benzene, which is a proven cause of leukemia—from deep geological strata;
- fragment[ing] forests in ways that decimate birds and wildlife, sabotage natural flood control systems, and pour sediment into rivers and streams;
- industrializ[ing] communities in ways that vastly increase truck traffic, noise pollution, light pollution, stress, crime and the need for emergency services;
- offer[ing] jobs that are dangerous, toxic and temporary, with a fatality rate seven times that of other industries; and
- leak[ing] prodigious amounts of methane, a potent heat-trapping gas.
Now, as details emerge about the University of Tennessee’s plan to frack 8,600 acres of the Cumberland forest, the Haslam family’s motives are becoming increasingly clear. Jimmy’s brother Bill Haslam is the Governor of Tennessee, and also sits on the University’s Board of Trustees. Jimmy and Bill’s father, Jim Haslam, was the co-chair of Mitt Romney’s Tennessee campaign in 2012, also once served on the UT board, and gave the school a $32.5 million donation in 2006, its largest ever from an individual. This piece by Steve Horn recently posted at DeSmogBlog contains a number of links to details on the UT plan and the Haslams’ ties to it, including an internal document obtained by a public records request stating that the “environmental community” “will not sway the Governor’s office resolve/support” for fracking the forest.
And why should the Haslams be swayed? Nevermind that they’re pushing a “fracking boom” at a time when “every major national science academy in the world [is reporting] that global warming is real, caused mostly by humans, and requires urgent action,” with “global concentrations of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere hav[ing] reached 394 parts per million, up from 280 ppm before the Industrial Revolution and the highest levels seen in at least 800,000 years.” Miami is already hurtling toward post-apocalyptic Waterworld status thanks to rapidly melting icecaps, and scientists working for the Australian government just issued a report stating that 80 percent of known global fossil fuel reserves (which includes that obtained by fracking) will have to stay in the ground if destabilizing climate change is to be avoided. Scientists at Oxford have calculated that “the world needs to begin reducing emissions by roughly 2.5 percent per year, starting now.” But despite these warnings and countless others, things are moving full steam in the opposite direction, with carbon emissions having “hit a new record this past year, increasing 3 percent to 34.7 billion metric tons of CO2 and other greenhouse gases,” and the natural gas boom having killed the economic viability of the development of clean and renewable fuel sources.
One need not at all believe the Haslams are evil per se to understand that their position on fracking raises important questions about a world where a family like the Haslams can on one hand be such grossly disproportionate private beneficiaries of a socially engineered order that depends on the massively subsidized demand for and availability of cheap fossil fuels, and on the other hand also be among humanity’s most invested proponents of the “free market” ideology of the U.S. Republican Party. Make a billion or three riding herd on the largest federal construction project ever undertaken, get your hands on the reigns of a national party apparatus, grab a statehouse and one of the country’s largest “public” universities, then see to it that the massively subsidized markets you’ve cornered become as “free” (unregulated) as can be.
“Uh, hope those scientists are wrong I guess, but I’m not really into politics. Go Browns!”