Land Trust Alliance Endorses U.S. Senate Bill to Ensure Integrity of Conservation Easement Program

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S. 2436 is Companion Legislation to Bill in House of Representatives

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The Land Trust Alliance, a national land conservation organization working to save the places people need and love by strengthening land conservation across America, today welcomed and endorsed the Charitable Conservation Easement Program Integrity Act of 2018.

Introduced by U.S. Sen. Steve Daines of Montana, a Republican, and Sen. Debbie Stabenow of Michigan, a Democrat, the Charitable Conservation Easement Program Integrity Act (S. 2436) would eliminate the ability of partnership investors to profit from the donation of a conservation easement on land held for a short period of time. Like companion legislation introduced in the House by Rep. Mike Thompson of California, a Democrat, and Rep. Mike Kelly of Pennsylvania, a Republican, the Senate bill’s language makes clear that conservation easement donations, like other charitable donations, are not intended to be profit opportunities.

“These bipartisan bills would prevent abuse while ensuring the vast majority of conservation easements can continue to go forward as truly charitable endeavors,” said Andrew Bowman, the Alliance’s president. “On behalf of the Alliance’s 1,000 member land trusts, I applaud Sen. Daines, Sen. Stabenow, Rep. Thompson and Rep. Kelly for their leadership on this urgent issue.”

In late 2016, the IRS flagged a narrow subset of conservation easement transactions because bad actors had developed a way for investors to profit off such charitable donations. IRS data show that investors claimed, on average, deductions valued at nine times the amount of their original investment. While the cost of these flagged deductions is not known, the total value of all conservation easements donated nearly tripled – from $1.1 billion to $3.2 billion – from 2013 to 2014.

“As Montanans, we value the natural beauty of the outdoors,” Daines said. “We must protect the integrity of conservation incentives meant to encourage public enjoyment by prohibiting scammers from taking advantage of taxpayers.”

The Alliance has worked for years to counter this abuse, pressing the IRS to shut down these transactions and taking a number of actions to help its member land trusts identify and avoid these deals, all while ensuring honest philanthropy continues to be rewarded. But because these deals continue to be promoted, Sens. Daines and Stabenow and Reps. Thompson and Kelly introduced new legislation.

“Because these bills are straightforward, narrowly drafted and needed, these represent an easy vote for every member of Congress,” Bowman said. “Land conservation is done for many reasons, but never should it be done for profit.”

For more information, visit http://www.landtrustalliance.org.

About the Land Trust Alliance
Founded in 1982, the Land Trust Alliance is a national land conservation organization that works to save the places people need and love by strengthening land conservation across America. The Alliance represents 1,000 member land trusts supported by more than 200,000 volunteers and 4.6 million members nationwide. The Alliance is based in Washington, D.C., and operates several regional offices. More information about the Alliance is available at http://www.landtrustalliance.org.

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Joshua Lynsen
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