Innovation Helps Protect the Planet

Our planet’s natural resources are under attack from all sides, including overdevelopment and climate change. Ninety-five percent of Earth’s lands have shown some indication of modification by humans, with 84 percent showing signs of multiple human impacts. The U.N.’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change estimates that the world has ten years left to avoid facing climate change’s worst effects, and the World Economic Forum’s Global Risks Report 2019 names “extreme weather” as one of the planet’s top risk over the next ten years. Innovation, whether intended to mitigate climate change or conserve more land, has the potential to help address such pressing environmental problems.

Several prominent Republicans have recently pointed to innovation as a policy solution. Senator John Barrasso, chairman of the Environment and Public Works Committee, has said, “The nation is leading the way [in reducing carbon emissions] not because of punishing regulations, restrictive laws or carbon taxes but because of innovation and advanced technology, especially in the energy sector. Making energy as clean as we can, as fast as we can, without raising costs to consumers will be accomplished through investment, invention and innovation.”

Senators Cory Gardner and Ben Sasse have echoed this sentiment. Gardner, for example has been quoted as saying “Innovation has a critical role. If you look at the reductions in emissions as a result of shifting to natural gas and away [from] goal and other fuels, it’s had a dramatic impact on emissions.”

Innovation can also protect our country’s valuable lands from development, with conservation partnerships representing one particularly innovative approach. These partnerships, in which a group of unrelated individuals come together to place a conservation easement on a property and thus limit its future use and forever protect it from development, encourage public participation in conservation at a time when more than 6,000 acres of open land are lost to development each day. Once such lands are developed, it’s virtually impossible to return them to their natural state. Land conservation has been instrumental in helping to prevent overdevelopment from getting worse, but it is too important a mission to rely on government efforts alone.

That’s why P4C supports private individuals taking on more responsibility in maintaining a healthy balance between economic growth and environmental stewardship. The associated conservation easement tax incentive, approved with bipartisan support, has encouraged individuals to protect hundreds of thousands of acres of land that may not have otherwise been protected. Limiting this deduction would lead to less land being conserved, an outcome that no one interested in protecting the environment should welcome.

P4C acknowledges that there are limited instances of abuse that have unfortunately overshadowed the positive impacts of the innovative conservation partnership structure. That is why P4C has developed legislative proposals that will curb abuses related to the limited instances of overvaluation without restricting conservation, including:

  • Enhancing the definition of “qualified appraisal” to produce more accurate and well-substantiated valuations
  • Bolstering the educational requirements to be a “qualified appraiser”
  • Producing greater visibility and transparency of charitable contributions of conservation easement donations by requiring clarifying disclosures by the donee

Through these common-sense reforms, Congress will ensure land conservation continues to expand in a responsible, and innovative, fashion.

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