Make the Enhanced Easement Incentive Permanent
Landowners who donate a conservation easement can claim a federal income tax deduction — an incentive that has been highly successful at encouraging private, voluntary land conservation. But Congress has allowed the Enhanced Easement Incentive Act to expire, reducing the value of the tax incentive for many landowners!
With the enhanced incentive in place, the pace of land conservation increased by about 33%, exceeding one million acres per year. First established in 2006, the enhanced incentive expired at the end of 2013. At the end of 2014, Congress reinstated it, but only retroactively for 2014. Now, with the incentive scaled back and its future uncertain, we’re missing opportunities to save land. In many places, the pace of conservation has dropped by half!
Making the enhanced incentive permanent is a top priority for the Alliance and the land trust community. Across the country, land trusts have been building strong bipartisan support for this powerful and cost-effective incentive.
House Votes Yes, On to the Senate
Good news! In February 2015, the House of Representatives voted to make the enhanced incentive permanent, passing the Conservation Easement Incentive Act by a supermajority of 279-127. This legislation was introduced in the house by Reps. Mike Kelley (R-PA) and Mike Thompson (D-CA) as H.R. 641. The House passed the bill as part of a package of legislation supporting America’s charities. A similar measure passed the House twice in 2014.
Land trusts’ advocacy on this issue has had a huge impact — so much that, in 2014, legislation to make the enhanced incentive permanent was backed by 222 co-sponsors in the House and 26 cosponsors in the Senate. That’s over half the House and a quarter of the Senate! President Obama’s proposed FY2016 budget also calls for making the enhanced incentive permanent.
Now, we need to get the Senate to pass the bill. Sens. Dean Heller (R-NV) and Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) have introduced it as S. 330 — and they’ve asked land trusts to help enlist cosponsors. Please contact your Senators and ask them to cosponsor this important legislation! If they co-sponsored it in the past, thank them and ask them to renew their support.
Why Support the Enhanced Easement Incentive?
Here are some key points to make when asking your members of Congress to support the enhanced incentive. See full talking points.
- Land conservation benefits people in their district. Talk about the benefits of land conservation for their constituents — and be specific! Tell personal stories about how the enhanced incentive helps family farmers, ranchers, and landowners of modest means protect their land. Even better, invite your members of Congress to come out for a site visit.
- Tax incentives are a cost-effective way to protect land. By encouraging donated easements, every dollar of tax incentives leverages $2.80 worth of conservation.
- The budget impact is small. This incentive has widespread, lasting impact on land conservation but only a minor impact on the federal budget—$1.2 billion over ten years.
- This incentive makes the tax system more fair. The enhanced incentive allows working farmers and ranchers, as well as landowners with modest incomes, to realize more of the value of the tax deduction.
- Easements are a voluntary, private-sector approach to conservation. Landowners and community-supported nonprofits take the lead, rather than the government.
How to Reach Out to Members of Congress
All land trusts have a huge stake in this legislation! Contact your legislators and ask for their support. First, see if they have supported this legislation in the past, and if so, be sure to thank them.
Call: You can reach your representatives by calling the Capitol Switchboard at 202-224-3121. But don't just leave a message at the front desk. As an organization representing hundreds of constituents, ask to speak with the staffer who handles tax issues. See talking points.
Site Visits: Invite your members of Congress to visit a protected property and meet the landowners, so they can see for themselves the importance of land conservation. See guide to site visits.
Build Relationships: Effective advocacy is based on strong one-on-one relationships and the Advocacy Ambassadors program can help you build them.