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Farm Bill Includes Easement Incentive, Billions for Conservation

Advocates Alert: May 8, 2008

Good news – we have confirmed that a 2-year extension of the expanded conservation easement tax incentive is included in a just-agreed to final version of the Farm Bill (H.R. 2419).

This isn’t a victory yet.  There’s still a ways to go, and we will be asking your help.

The final “conference report” will be voted on, and will pass the House and the Senate next week.  Then it goes to the President for his signature.  The President may well veto the bill (for reasons having nothing to do with the tax incentive).  If he does, it only becomes law if two-thirds of both the House and Senate vote to override him.  That’s never easy, and will require a lot of work, but it can be done.

The final bill ALSO includes:

  • A 50% increase in funding for the Farm and Ranchland Protection Program ($1.5 billion dollars over 10 years);
  • $300 million for the Grassland Reserve Program (which had run out of money);
  • Good reforms to these two programs that make them much more user-friendly for landowners, land trusts, and state and local farmland protection programs.

The details on these programs are important – but we don’t have them yet, and won’t until some time next week.

Again, we are NOT declaring victory.  We can do that only after the President has signed this bill into law, or the Congress has overridden a veto.

We are still committed to making the conservation easement tax incentive permanent.  But we are very grateful for the chance to get another two years to demonstrate just how powerful a conservation tool this tax incentive is.  Many other incentives that were in the Senate’s Farm Bill – including tax credits for landowners who protect endangered species habitats, and better treatment of food donations – have been scaled back or eliminated.  Other tax incentives enacted in 2006, including allowing charitable donations from IRAs, have expired, have not been reinstated, and may lose most or all of 2008.

You should know there will be a great deal of criticism of the final Farm Bill.  While we are close to major victories on the tax incentive, Farmland Protection and Grassland Reserve, other conservation programs (including the Wetland Reserve Program and the Conservation Reserve Program) were cut, and may be hampered by new rules.  We have worked hard with Congress over the past week to fix some problems such as means testing for participation in conservation programs, but inevitably, some bad language will remain. On balance, private land conservation did very well in this bill and if it becomes law it will give us some very powerful tools to conserve important lands.

We will be asking for your help in seeing that Congress passes this bill by a wide margin, and, if necessary, votes to overturn the President’s veto.

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July 17: The House just voted 277-130 to pass the charities package! 56 Democrats joined their Republican colleagues to support charitable giving incentives, including the enhanced easement incentive - the second-highest number of defections after the research and development tax credit. Several others spoke on the floor in support of the conservation easement incentive, and other favorable charitable incentives. Thank you to organizations like Ducks Unlimited, CSF and others that reached out to Congressional offices over the last few days or alerted their membership of this important vote. Now, we pivot to the Senate.
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