Gerlach’s farmland and open space conservation bill advances

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Washington, May 29 | comments

The House Ways & Means Committee on Thursday passed legislation sponsored by Congressman Jim Gerlach (PA-6th District) that would make permanent a federal tax incentive used to save thousands of acres of farmland and open space throughout southeastern Pennsylvania.

Gerlach authored H.R. 2807, the proposed Conservation Easement Tax Incentive Act. The bill, which is co-sponsored by nearly half of the members in the U.S. House of Representatives, now goes to the full House for consideration.

Local organizations, including the Berks County Conservancy, Brandywine Conservancy, French and Pickering Creeks Conservation Trust, and Natural Lands Trust, have partnered with private landowners utilizing conservation easements to protect thousands of acres of open space in the Oley Hills area of Berks County, the Great Marsh in East Nantmeal Township Chester County, and other natural treasures in the 6th District.

However, the conservation easement incentive expired at the end of 2013 and will not be available without Congressional action.

“This vote is a crucial step in ensuring that we give all property owners, family farmers and others the option of voluntarily conserving the farmland and open space and farmland that make our communities in the 6th District such great places to live and raise a family,” Gerlach said after Thursday’s vote. “The conservation easement tax incentive has generated widespread support in Congress because the conservation easement tax credit works.”

In addition to making the incentive permanent, Gerlach’s legislation would create an enhanced incentive for conservation easements. The enhanced incentive helps landowners of modest means choose conservation by:

•Raising the maximum deduction a donor can take for donating a conservation easement
from 30% of their adjusted gross income (AGI) in any year to 50%
•Allowing qualified farmers and ranchers to deduct up to 100% of their AGI
•Increasing the number of years over which a donor can take deductions from 6 to 16 years 

A regional study released in November 2010 by the GreenSpace Alliance and the Delaware Valley Regional Planning Commission found that open space in five counties in Southeastern Pennsylvania:
•Adds $16.3 billion to the region’s home values;
•Supports nearly 7,000 jobs annually in industries including agriculture, tourism, hospitality, recreation, and open space management and preservation;
•Saves more than $130 million in water treatment and flood control costs;
•And through recreation at area parks and trails, avoids $1.3 billion in health-related costs.

"This is a great step forward for land conservation and for providing a reliable tool to ensure today's natural treasures can be enjoyed for generations to come," said Rand Wentworth, president of the Land Trust Alliance, which has been leading a coalition to make the provision permanent since 2006.

"The fact that the bill has already gained more than 200 co-sponsors underscores the breadth of support on both sides of the aisle for the idea of making the enhanced incentive permanent," he noted.  "Nearly half of House members are co-sponsoring the bill, underscoring the fact that Congress believes it should be law," he pointed out. "But the number of legislative days are numbered, so the time to act is now."

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