On August 17th, President Bush signed a bill into law that has been enthusiastically received by the land trust community. For 2006 and 2007, the 900-page Pension Protection Act of 2006 expands the charitable tax deduction incentives for landowners who donate conservation easements on their land. You can see which constituent benefit the administration chose to emphasize in the banner slogan at the signing (left), but it is clearly a huge environmental win as well. To make matters more interesting for those of us who lean left of center and self identify as conservationists, Republican Senator Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania - often in the public spotlight for his strongly conservative views on social issues - was a key supporter of expanding these conservation tax incentives and his sponsorship was extremely important in passing them into law.
The language of the August 17th Pension Bill raises the federal income tax deduction a landowner can take in any given year for donating a permanent conservation easement from 30% to 50% of their income (100% of their income for qualifying farmers and ranchers who donate agricultural easements), and extends the carry forward period for an easement owner to tax deductions from 5 to 15 years. This incentive means that there may be better economic outcomes for more willing easement donor s than an outright sale of their land for development. it also means that land trusts and conservation organizations who cannot compete toe to toe in the open market with real estate developers have something of real, tangible value to offer that developers cannot: the ability to preserve a legacy on land you still own and a better bottom line for the landowner than a full fair market value sale.
Many, many individuals and entities deserve credit for this conservation victory. In addition to the legislators who passed the bill and the President who signed it into law, the land trust community, spearheaded by the Land Trust Alliance, worked tirelessly to create support for these measures, and to turn around what had been only a couple years previously a Senate Finance Committee inquiry into easements and their potential abuses. There are some good, sensible requirements for conservation easements within the structure of this bill, and implementing self-defined standards and practices and voluntary accreditation procedures are a central priority for the Land Trust Alliance.
Our land is our future. It is encouraging to see this positive step forward by our legislators and the Bush administration, who are hearing from their constituents on both sides of the aisle that this issue is of vital importance to their families and communities and these expanded tax incentives are needed. They sunset after 2007, however, so I will write not only my Congressional delegation from CT but Senator Santorum and President Bush, thanking them for their efforts to enact these measures and encouraging them to ensure that they remain in place when these two years have passed. You may wish to do the same.