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BP to Pay 'Largest Settlement With a Single Entity in American History'

Energy

As the U.S. Department of Justice announced on Monday a final settlement with BP over the devastating 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill, groups are warning that the oil giant may still nab a substantial tax break under the deal.

The U.S. Coast Guard battles flames following the explosion on BP's offshore oil rig Deepwater Horizon. Photo credit: U.S. Coast Guard / Wikimedia Commons

Attorney General Loretta Lynch said the $20.8 billion settlement agreement marks the "the largest settlement with a single entity in American history." The resolution includes $5.5 billion to settle civil claims under the Clean Water Act; $7.1 billion in natural resources damages claims under the Oil Pollution Act, in addition to the $1 billion previously committed for early restoration and $4.9 billion in economic damages claims to the five Gulf states and up to $1 billion for local governments.

However, reporting by the Times-Picayune highlighted the little-noticed detail that, while the U.S. Department of Justice has explicitly forbidden BP from deducting its Clean Water Act penalties, no restrictions have been placed on the billions labeled natural resource damages payments, restoration and reimbursement to government, which it can treat as a business expense.

U.S. Public Interest Research Group (PIRG) says this amounts to $15.3 billion that can be written off as the "cost of doing business"—$5.35 billion of which can be claimed as a tax windfall.

"BP was found to be grossly negligent in the Deepwater Horizon case and yet the vast majority of what they are paying to make up for their gross negligence is legally considered just business as usual under the tax code unless the U.S. Department of Justice explicitly prohibits a write-off," said Michelle Surka, program associate with U.S. PIRG. "This not only sends the wrong message, but it also hurts taxpayers by forcing us to shoulder the burden of BP’s tax windfall in the form of higher taxes, cuts to public programs and more national debt."

Environmental watchdog group Friends of the Earth also noted that the Deepwater Horizon disaster has already allowed BP sizable tax benefits, including the $10 billion windfall it was able to secure by deducting the cost of its cleanup expenses.

"BP should not be allowed to treat the costs of their disaster as the cost of doing business," said Friends of the Earth climate and energy campaigner Lukas Ross. "We are concerned that this settlement doesn’t protect taxpayers. The justice department must ensure that no further tax benefits can accrue to the company responsible for perhaps the biggest environmental disaster in U.S. history."

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Farms with just one or a handful of different crops encourage fewer species of pollinating and pest-controlling insects to linger, ultimately winnowing away crop yields, according to a new study.

Up to half of the detrimental impacts of the "landscape simplification" that monocropping entails come as a result of a diminished mix of ecosystem service-providing insects, a team of scientists reported Oct. 16 in the journal Science Advances.

Monocrop palm oil plantation Honduras.

SHARE Foundation / Flickr / CC BY-NC 2.0​

"Our study shows that biodiversity is essential to ensure the provision of ecosystem services and to maintain a high and stable agricultural production," Matteo Dainese, the study's lead author and a biologist at Eurac Research in Bolzano, Italy, said in a statement.

It stands to reason that, with declines in the sheer numbers of insects that ferry pollen from plant to plant and keep crop-eating pests under control, these services will wane as well. But until now, it hasn't been clear how monocultures affect the number and mix of these species or how crop yields might change as a result.

Aiming to solve these questions, Dainese and his colleagues pulled together data from 89 studies cutting across a variety of landscapes, from the tropics of Asia and Africa to the higher latitudes of northern Europe. They tabulated the number of pollinating and pest-controlling insects at these sites — both the absolute number of individuals and the number of species — along with an assessment of the ecosystem services the insects provided.

In almost all of the studies they looked at, the team found that a more diverse pool of these species translated into more pollination and greater pest control. They also showed that simplified landscapes supported fewer species of service-providing insects, which ultimately led to lower crop yields.

The researchers also looked at a third measure of the makeup of insect populations — what they called "evenness." In natural ecosystems, a handful of dominant species with many more individuals typically live alongside a higher number of rarer species. The team found as landscapes became less diverse, dominant species numbers dwindled and rare species gained ground. This resulting, more equitable mix led to less pollination (though it didn't end up affecting pest control).

"Our study provides strong empirical support for the potential benefits of new pathways to sustainable agriculture that aim to reconcile the protection of biodiversity and the production of food for increasing human populations," Ingolf Steffan-Dewenter, one of the study's authors and an animal ecologist at the University of Würzburg in Germany, said in the statement.

The scientists figure that the richness of pollinator species explains around a third of the harmful impacts of less diverse landscapes, while the richness of pest-controlling species accounts for about half of the same measure. In their view, the results of their research point to the need to protect biodiversity on and around crops in an uncertain future.

"Under future conditions with ongoing global change and more frequent extreme climate events, the value of farmland biodiversity ensuring resilience against environmental disturbances will become even more important," Steffan-Dewenter said.

Reposted with permission from our media associate Mongabay.

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