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The tax plan and sustainability, teens sue US Government


THAT'S NEWS TO ME is a listing of news stories and other stuff that caught my attention this past week.

The Tax Plan: Social and Environmental Impact

First, let me just say I have not read it.

Second, let me also say:  I am not sure anyone has!

The last tax overhaul took nearly a year and this has taken a number of weeks.  What might the outcomes be for people, planet and profits?

People:  most nonpartisan analysis suggests that the wealthiest benefit the most while the poor, middle class and elderly may see near-term tax relief with a bill coming due later. (Forbes, 2017)

Planet:  the tax plan reduces government support for clean energy, opens up the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, and puts speed bumps in front of electric cars. (Mother Jones, 2017). It is possible that companies will use their increased profits (see below) to fund smart sustainability initiatives that both further drive profitability and improve their social and environmental performance.

Profits: a reduced corporate tax rate increases profitability but what companies do with that depends on many factors and it doesn't necessarily bring jobs, factories or wages back. Plus Amazon hired 17,000 robots last year so more money doesn't necessarily mean more jobs. The best thing I have read on this is from Brightcove CEO David Mendels on LinkedIn (from Business Insider, 2017):

"A tax cut for corporations will increase their profitability. Why we should believe that this increase in profitability will lead to wage increases when we have already seen that increases in profitability over the last 10 years did not, but rather went to stock buybacks and dividend increases that benefitted the investors?

As a CEO and member of the Board of Directors at a public company, I can tell you that if we had an increase in profitability, we would have been delighted, but it would not lead in and of itself to more hiring or an increase in wages. Again, we would hire more people if we saw growing demand for our products and services. We would raise salaries if that is what it took to hire and retain great people. But if we had a tax cut that led to higher profits absent those factors, we would ‘pocket it’ for our investors.”

Dipping Into the Principle Instead of Living off the Interest (NY Times, NPR)

Basic financial management in the case of an endowment is to live off the interest and never touch the principal.  We might not be following that advice when it comes to our natural capital. 

Last week, the President withdrew two million acres of landscape from two national monuments in Utah:  85 percent of Bears Ears National Monument and half of Grand Staircase–Escalante National Monument. This followed the Senate’s decision days before to authorize oil drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

Image credit: Bears Ears National Monument, Earthjustice 

Teens Sue the U.S. Government Over Inaction on Climate Change (National Geographic)

Image credit: National Geographic, 2017

A group of 21 youths is claiming the federal government’s promotion of fossil fuels and inaction on risks posed by greenhouse gas emissions have resulted in “a dangerous destabilizing climate system” that threatens the survival of future generations.

That lapse violates, the court papers argue, their fundamental constitutional rights to life, liberty, and property. The lawsuit also argues that the government violated the public trust doctrine, a legal concept grounded in ancient law that holds the government is responsible for protecting public resources, such as land and water—or in this case, the climate system—for public use.

Jayden Foytlin, 13, of Rayne, Louisiana said to the court: “This flood has been called a thousand-year event. Yet within the last two years, I have read about eight ‘500-year’ events. In less than two years, there have been nine flood events that are not even supposed to happen in my lifetime. My family and I feel very vulnerable.” 

For the latest on cool stuff going on at Penn State, check out the news page at the Sustainability Institute, like a new student venture "Project BYOB" or "bring your own bike" or $950,000 for organic mushroom research.

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