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2009 Policy Priorities Update

Advocates Alert: May 5, 2009

With our easement incentive cosponsor drive well underway, we figured it's a good time to provide an update on all four of the Land Trust Alliance's 2009 policy priorities. These are the priorities you helped us select at Rally 2008, as they were officially approved by our Board of Directors on January 28.

#1 - Making the 2006 Conservation Tax Incentives Permanent

You’ve heard quite a bit about the easement incentive in recent ADVOCATES alerts, because that's where your calls, right now, can have the greatest impact. There's also great urgency since the incentive is set to expire December 31, 2009!

Our most important strategy for making the incentive permanent this year is to secure a majority of the House, 218 Representatives as co-sponsors of the Conservation Easement Incentive Act (H.R. 1831).  At 109, we're halfway to our goal! Click here to see if your Representative is among them.  If not, please call your Rep. today!

Senate legislation, the Rural Heritage Conservation Extension Act (S. 812) has also been introduced with 6 co-sponsors, and we're actively searching for pieces of legislation to which we can attach the incentive. View the latest news, fact sheets and links.

#2 - Creating a Conservation Incentive in Estate Tax Reform

Estate taxes can lead to the break-up, sale and development of family-owned farm, ranch and forest lands, even when landowners would prefer to keep these lands intact.  The Congress must change the estate tax law this year, or else the estate tax will be zero in 2010, and then return in 2011 at a level everyone agrees is punitive and unfair ($1 million unified credit, 55% top rate).

We are working with selected land trusts and with the Environmental Defense Fund to create momentum for estate tax reform to include a greater incentive for land conservation.  In the next few weeks, bills will be introduced in the House to expand the current conservation incentive, IRC 2031(c), and to provide a deferral of estate taxes on conserved lands.

For more information:


#3 - Improving IRS Administration of Conservation Donation Rules

Despite some inroads at the policy level of IRS, we are sorry to say that conservation easements were again mentioned on their annual list of "Dirty Dozen Tax Scams."  Audits of conservation easement donations are increasing, and unfortunately, many of those audits are un-targeted.  The best conservation easement seems just as likely to be audited as the worst, and most of the audits assert that the easement donation is not valid and has a zero value.

We have led cooperation between donors and their attorneys fighting audits, first in Colorado and throughout the nation.  And we have gained enough credibility with the IRS at the policy level through our education and accreditation work that they do seek our input on a variety of issues and have occasionally corrected course at our request.  But our constant vigilance is needed here, because at the revenue agent level, understanding and acceptance of the legitimacy of land trusts' work is in very short supply.

For more information:


#4 - Framing Land Conservation as an Important Response to Climate Change

Climate change is a new priority for the Land Trust Alliance and is a multifaceted issue spanning both policy and our education programs.  Regardless of your personal beliefs about the cause, severity and necessary response to climate change, the land trust community has no choice but to be an active player.  Public policy responses, private carbon markets and adaptation activities are already creating challenges and opportunities for land trusts around the country.

A good deal of attention is being given to the role that fossil fuel use plays in climate change, but natural and agricultural landscapes play an important role in our climate too.  The EPA estimates that U.S. lands, public and private, together provide nearly 900 million metric tons of annual carbon dioxide removal from the atmosphere.  This represents 14.8% of total U.S. carbon dioxide emissions.  The Land Trust Alliance is working with partners to call on policy makers to support a variety of policies to aid conservation of private forest, grasslands and agricultural lands, to retain their role in mitigating carbon emissions and to prevent carbon emissions from their conversion to more intensive uses.

It’s also clear that global warming may literally change the face of our conserved lands by shifting habitats northward and uphill, by raising sea levels and a wide array of less predictable stresses.  The National Wildlife Federation and other Alliance partners are working to ensure that robust funding for land conservation and management of conserved land is included in any climate bill.

We had hoped to do more on climate change, but we have not yet been successful raising the funding to allow us to expand our efforts on this issue.  Rally 2009 will feature at least 10 climate change related seminars and workshops.

For more information about our policy perspective on this issue, please see our Presidential Transition Recommendations on:

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Advocates Alerts

February 12: The House successfully voted 279-137, demonstrating a supermajority (67%) of support, on H.R. 644, a package of charitable incentives including the conservation tax incentive.Now we need your help in the Senate to secure co-sponsors! Sens. Heller and Stabenow have requested land trusts’ assistance in asking senators to cosponsor S. 330, the Conservation Easement Incentive Act. Learn more »

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