Senate Committee Advances Farm Bill, Land Trusts Lauded at Hearings
Last Thursday, land trusts and the incentives they rely on were showcased in three committee meetings across Capitol Hill. At day's end, a new Farm Bill was headed to the Senate floor -- but there's still important work to be done.
Senate Ag Committee Passes New Farm Bill
By a bipartisan vote of 16-5, the Senate Agriculture Committee approved a modified draft of its 2012 Farm Bill (.pdf, 1.9 mb) that merges easement programs while maintaining strong funding in a tough budget climate. Agricultural Land Easements (which combine FRPP and GRP) would receive $880 million over the next five years. Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) says she is pushing for a vote on the Senate floor in the next few weeks.
Thanks to Senator Pat Leahy (D-VT), a new cap on future appropriations for the Forest Legacy Program was raised from $55 million to $200 million a year -- more than three times its recent funding level. A similar cap on the Community Forests Program increased from $1.5 million to $50 million.
However, we still have two significant concerns about the bill language that we hope can be addressed on the Senate floor:
- The formula for determining how much cash land trusts must provide as match for agricultural land easements could disadvantage organizations working with significant bargain sales. We hope to restore the existing match formula and win inclusion of an amendment to allow waivers of the match requirements for strategic projects.
- The bill needs to restore language clarifying that the federal government is not acquiring a real property interest and has only a "contingent right of enforcement."
- Land Trust Alliance letter to the Committee on these and other issues (.pdf, 100 kb)
At the meeting, Senator Michael Bennet (D-CO) strongly advocated for the easement programs and highlighted the work of land trusts in his remarks. He filed an amendment to increase match flexibility but chose to withdraw it after securing a commitment from Chairwoman Stabenow to continue improving the consolidated easement program.
- Watch video from the meeting (Bennet amendment discussed at 188:47)
- See a letter from Western senators on the match issue (.pdf, 1.3 mb)
- Read Senator Bennet's Op-Rd in the Grand Junction Sentinel
House Subcommittee Takes Up Conservation in the 2012 Farm Bill
Last Thursday, the House Agriculture Committee held a hearing on the conservation title of the Farm Bill. Jon Scholl, president of American Farmland Trust, Patrick O'Toole, president of Family Farm Alliance, and Dave Petty, a National Cattlemen's Beef Association member, testified on the importance of the Farm and Ranch Lands Protection Program.
- Video of the hearing (Jon Scholl at 24:05)
- Alliance written testimony (.pdf, 192 kb)
- Submit your own comments by May 20, 2012
Easement Incentive Championed at Tax Hearing
The same day, the House Ways and Means Committee held a hearing on legislation to renew expired tax provisions -- including the enhanced incentive for donations of conservation easements -- which expired at the beginning of this year.
Amid tax break wish lists from more than two dozen representatives, our champions' heartfelt remarks truly stood out. Watch the video. Congressman Mike Thompson (D-CA) touted the broad bipartisan and coalition support for the Conservation Easement Incentive Act, H.R. 1964, and cited the importance of conservation easements to rural and urban constituencies alike (22:13 in the video). Congressman Jim Gerlach (R-PA) followed-up with specific examples and economic statistics about the benefits of conservation easements in his district (31:14 in the video). Kudos to the local land trusts that inspired these remarks!
The hearing followed a statement by the Speaker of the House that a bill to extend important tax provisions should be a priority. We are also working with our champions to explore legislative vehicles for making the easement incentive permanent. We're in a very strong position with 306 House and 20 Senate co-sponsors, but in this gridlocked Congress, additional support would be extremely helpful.
So far, only Connecticut, Montana, and Rhode Island have recruited their entire Congressional delegations as co-sponsors of H.R. 1964 and S. 339 and there are still 14 House and 34 Senate co-sponsors from previous years who haven't yet signed-on to the current bills. Those senators alone would give us a majority in the Senate!
Thanks for helping!
S. 339 Co-sponsors Added Since Our Last Update:
- Senator Mark Begich (D-AK)
- Senator Ben Nelson (D-NE)
H.R. 1964 Co-sponsors Added Since Our Last Update:
- Rep. Bob Gibbs (R-OH/18th)
- Rep. Bill Cassidy (R-LA/6th)
- Rep. Harold Rogers (R-KY/5th)
See the full list and map at: www.lta.org/easementincentive/cosponsors.
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