Fact-Checking S.170

Earlier in January, Senator Steve Daines of Montana introduced S. 170, the Charitable Conservation Easement Program Integrity Act of 2019, alongside bill co-sponsor Debbie Stabenow. The bill, in Daines’ words, would make “several important changes to the tax incentive that will help curb abuses and make sure that [conservation easements] remain an important conservation tool.”

Partnership for Conservation (P4C) agrees with Senators Daines and Stabenow that conservation easement legislation should encourage law-abiding taxpayers to protect our environment for generations to come and also curb abusive behavior. But S. 170 would hinder conservation, and here are three reasons why:

  • Conservation partnerships are an important conservation tool. S. 170 is a step backwards. Conservation partnerships have protected hundreds of thousands of acres from California to Georgia, some of which are highlighted on P4C’s website. We should be working towards broadening access to conservation, not restricting it.
  • In rare instances of abuse, the problem is valuation, not property ownership structure. When you consider any publicly available statistics, abuses of valuation with conservation easement donations are rare and are no more likely to come from a partnership of unrelated individuals than a wealthy landowner or a family partnership.
  • S. 170 would take away a critical tool and an important incentive for landowners to make the choice to conserve our natural resources in our nation’s fight against climate change and overdevelopment. In 2015, Congress updated the tax code to make permanent a tax incentive that opens private conservation to all Americans. And, since 2005, the year prior to the deduction’s temporary introduction, more than 20 million acres of land have been conserved – in part thanks to the success of conservation easements in the form of partnerships. This nationwide surge in conservation is a direct result of the incentive, and removing it would lead to less conservation.

Our country is already losing around 6,000 acres a day to development. Policymakers on both sides of the aisle are sounding the alarm on climate change, which increasingly threatens habitats, species and human livelihoods. Uncertainty surrounding our environment’s future requires innovation – which conservation partnerships provide.

Conservation partnerships are a vitally important tool for conserving our nation’s precious lands, a tool that is working as Congress intended, protecting hundreds of thousands of acres of open space from being lost forever. Common-sense improvements to the legislation governing conservation partnerships can and should be made, like any decades-old legislation. But let’s not do it at the detriment of conservation reaching greater and more effective heights, as S. 170 would.

P4C remains committed to working with Congress, the public and all conservation stakeholders to advance meaningful legislative reforms that eliminate rare instances of abuse but ensure conservation partnerships can continue for generations to come. If we are to successfully address the growing challenges facing our communities and our environment, all tools must remain on the table.

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