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Friday Finds: Tax Evasion Exxon Style

Energy companies dodge taxes while getting rich off subsidies 
Most people try to pay as little in taxes as possible, but energy companies like Exxon Mobil and PG&E have taken tax dodging to the extreme by actually making money off taxpayers while paying zero dollars in taxes, reports ThinkProgress. According to an analysis by the Citizens for Tax Justice and the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy, 32 companies in the fossil-fuel industry “transformed a tax responsibility of $17.3 billion…into tax benefits of $6.5 billion” between 2008 and 2010 through such financial wizardry as tax breaks, government-funded subsidies and “questionable tax dodging.” ' As the report’s authors note, “It seems rather odd, not to mention highly wasteful, that the industries with the largest subsidies (driven in part by their large share of total profits) are ones that would seem to need them least.” It’s rather odd, indeed, especially when average Americans are paying record prices at the gas pump.   

Coca-Cola drinks to successfully blocking Grand Canyon bottle ban
The nation’s top parks official recently blocked a plastic water bottle ban in the Grand Canyon after meeting with Coca-Cola, a major park foundation donor, reports the New York Times. Plastic bottles make up approximately one-third of the park’s total waste stream and are reportedly the “single biggest source of trash” found in the Grand Canyon. The plastic water bottle ban was scheduled to go into effect in 2012, but was shelved after Coca-Cola officials met with members of the National Park Foundation and expressed their “concerns” about the ban, such as the issue of limiting “personal choice.” Of course, both parties deny that Coca-Cola’s million dollar donations have anything to do with the park’s about-face on the issue. But even though the park won’t be going through with the ban, park officials have already installed about $300,000 worth of water filling stations so hikers and wildlife watchers can still make it their personal choice to not trash the canyon by bringing their own reusable bottles.
 
Farm workers more productive when they can breathe
Recently, President Obama scrapped the EPA’s efforts to implement stronger ozone standards on the reasoning that passing such regulations would kill jobs, but a recent study by the nonpartisan National Bureau of Economic Research found that stronger ozone standards actually increase productivity among farm workers, reports the New York Times. The study, which looked at eight months of payroll data from 1,600 farm workers in California’s Central Valley, found that a decrease of ozone levels by 10 parts per billion—a level similar to the EPA’s own ozone-tightening proposal—increased worker productivity by almost 5 percent. More importantly, the researchers extrapolated the data to find that the jump in productivity could yield a $1.1 billion increase in the U.S. agriculture sector every year. Of course, the EPA says that strengthening the ozone standard from 75 parts per billion to 60 ppb would also save up to 12,000 lives per year, prevent 58,000 asthma attacks and avoid 21,000 hospital and emergency room visits, all of which also directly affect worker productivity. These findings should come as no surprise. After all, people are always going to be more productive if they don’t have to struggle to breathe.
 
Keystone pipeline protesters play ring around the White House
Earlier this week, approximately 10,000 protesters created a human ring around the White House in a rally against the proposed Keystone XL pipeline, reports Grist. The rally brought out everyone from actor Mark Ruffalo to the president and CEO of Sojourners, a Washington, D.C.-based social justice organization. Though Obama missed most of the protest (he was busy golfing), the throng of ralliers may have had some sort of impact on the president, who recently announced that the Keystone pipeline will be delayed for another 18 months. Whether this move was politically or emotionally motivated is up for grabs, but in the meantime TransCanada CEO Russ Girling is reportedly convinced that the delay might just kill the project.
 
Healthcare professionals push for alternatives to hormone-disrupting plastic
Hospitals that use IV bags, tubing and neo-natal masks made with PVC plastic need to find safer alternatives due to a growing concern over phthalates, hormone-disrupting additives often used to soften hard plastics like PVC, says the American Public Health Association. Though vinyl has many good qualities like flexibility and kink resistance, a growing body of research links phthalates to health problems like decreased mental and motor development in children as well as asthma and reproductive problems, reports CNN.  Some companies have already developed PVC-free IV bags and tubing, and several hospitals like Kaiser Permanente have committed to eliminating PVC from its hospitals entirely.  

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