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Congress has released its omnibus federal spending package, which sets funding levels for government agencies for Fiscal Year 2016. It also contains a number of conservation and environmental provisions that will affect America’s lands, waters, and wildlife, including a three-year reauthorization of the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) and funding that program at $450 million next year. The bill passed both the House and Senate and is expected to be signed by the President.
“The omnibus bill shows promise on many of the top conservation issues facing our nation today,” says the Nature Conservancy‘s global Managing Director for Public Policy Lynn Scarlett. “The bill includes greater overall funding for critical land and water conservation work that supports secure and prosperous communities across America, and we are grateful for that commitment.”
The Land and Water Conservation Fund was established by Congress in 1964 to protect the country’s natural resources and to provide recreation opportunities to all Americans. Using zero taxpayer dollars, the fund invests earnings from offshore oil and gas leasing to help preserve national lands and waters. Through a variety of programs, the fund supports national parks, national forests, and national recreation areas, as well as voluntary conservation activities on private lands. In addition, some of the funds are distributed directly to states and local communities through grant programs.
“ The short-term reauthorization of LWCF in the omnibus is helpful progress that will allow continued investment in the lands and waters that sustain our communities, boost our economy and safeguard our environment,” Scarlett said.
In addition, the omnibus bill makes enhanced tax deductions for conservation easement donations permanent. The conservation tax deduction allows a landowner to claim a federal income tax deduction for the value of a donated easement, similar to other charitable donations. The value of the easement is calculated by determining the difference in property value before and after the easement. With the enhanced incentive, the maximum deduction a donor can receive for donating a conservation easement is raised from 30 percent of their adjusted gross income (AGI) to 50 percent. Qualified farmers and ranchers make deduct up to 100 percent of their AGI. The incentive also allows any unused portion of the deduction to be carried forward and applied against AGI for up to 15 years.
“This vote represents an unqualified congressional endorsement of our long-held belief: It is in all our best interests to permanently protect important natural, scenic and historic resources for public benefit,” said Rand Wentworth, Land Trust Alliance President.
Other conservation wins included in the bill are five-year extensions to the investment tax credit for solar and wind energy power projects. The credits, which apply to home solar kits as well as big commercial installations, will be good through 2019. After that the credit will begin to drop, declining to 10 percent in 2022 where it will remain.
“In all, the omnibus bill advances the critical benefits that conservation of lands and waters provide to American communities and families,” said Scarlett. “We are grateful for all of the hard work of our champions in Congress who made this possible. This omnibus is a hopeful signal for the even greater conservation policy progress we believe is necessary and possible in the very near future.”