Pension reform bill coup for conservation easements

A mere one-and-a-half years ago, the land trust community was shaking in their boots from a Congressional Joint Committee on Taxation report that recommended the tax benefit for donating a conservation easement (ce) be lowered. Then came Sen. Rick Santorum (R-Pa.), who called the report a “potential disaster” and, together with the land trust community, embarked on a campaign to discredit and bury it.

“It’s been a phenomenal turnaround,” said Molly Morrison, president of Natural Lands Trust, proving what money and power can do in Washington.

Not only did they bury the report; Section 1206 of the Pension Protections Act (H.R. 4), signed into law by President Bush, raises the deduction a landowner can take for donating a ce from 30 percent of his/her income in any year to 50 percent.

It also extends the carryover period for the donor to take the tax deduction from five to 15 years, and farmers and ranchers may deduct up to 100 percent of their income if they qualify. The new law is only in effect until December 2007, which means land trusts will be in full force wooing unsuspecting landowners into their snare. “This bill marks a brand-new day for efforts to protect our nations’ landscapes, natural resources and local economies,” said Alan Front, Senior VP of the Trust for Public Land. Translated, ces will be used to take and control millions of acres of private property, turning future generations of farmers and ranchers into landless sharecroppers begging for crumbs from our government and land trusts.

(Easement Incentives Expanded – Doc 3044

(Landmark Conservation Measure Signed Into Law – Doc 3045

Virginia's Sen. Allen sponsors heritage bill

Presidential hopeful, Sen. George Allen, (R-Va.) has angered private property rights advocates with his sponsorship of a massive heritage area bill, “the Journey Through Hallowed Ground National Heritage Area Act of 2006.” The proposed heritage area would stretch 175 miles from Charlottesville, Va. to Gettysburg, Pa., impacting thousands of acres of private property. Such a designation would “spell restricted land use and lost property rights for residents within the boundaries,” said Peyton Knight of the National Center for Public Policy Research.

Brenda Barrett, national coordinator of National Heritage Areas for the National Park Service, disagreed with Knight’s assessment. The federal government has no control over land use policies, she explained, and management entities do not have the power to set land use regulations. When asked to comment, Knight said Barrett’s statements are essentially true, however: “Allen’s bill directs the federal government and select anti-property rights groups to create [a list] of any property they want acquired and regulated within the area. This area has boundaries and those boundaries, have efinite consequences for property owners in the area. It also gives these groups federal cash and directs them to spend it on accomplishing these schemes,” Knight continued.

(Property Rights Groups Cry Foul Over ‘Heritage…- Doc 3046

(Anti-Property Right Initiative Gets Boost from … – Doc 3047

$2 million Snake

Sacramento County, Calif. is going to have to come up with more than $2.2 million to restore Pritchard Lake where airport work crews have been dumping dirt and debris since 1993. The Army Corps of Engineers ordered a stop to the practice in 2002, and the county has since spent $700,000 removing the fill as well as paying an $87,000 civil penalty for wrecking the habitat of the California giant garter snake that is supposed to live near the 9.7-acre slough.

The county was ordered to restore the “lake” that is considered “navigable waters of the U.S.” by the Corps, to pre-1993 conditions and to compensate for the temporary loss of snake habitat by developing wetlands on nearby land that was once a rice field.

“We have taken that acreage out of agriculture production in anticipation of creating new habitat for the snake,” said Robert Leonard, chief operating officer of county airports.

(Airport Error Will Cost $2 Million – Doc 3048

Land Use-Czar

Two recent U. S. Supreme Court cases underscore the growing problems landowners face with government agencies continually expanding their power base by misapplication of environmental regulations.

The Court heard the cases of Michigan residents John Rapanos and June Caravel both of whom had been snarled for years in the web of Army Corps of Engineers’ illogical interpretation of the Clean Water Act. The Court’s decision to remand the cases back to the lower court did little to alleviate the property owners’ problem, however.

Jefferson G. Edgens, Ph. D., director of research for the Bluegrass Institute, writes that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Army Corps of Engineers (the Corps), as well as other regulatory agencies, have made “fugitives of landowners, bankrupted others and left the remainder perplexed about their own property.”

The Bluegrass Institute report states: “The expanded control sought by these agencies has corresponded to the broadening of their definition of wetlands beyond the traditional designations of marshes, swamplands, ponds or other entities ‘saturated with moisture’ to include ditches, gullies and creeks that flow only after a rainstorm.” Justice Antonin Scalia branded the Corps an “enlightened despot” for its treatment of Rapanos and argued in his brief “that a broad definition of ‘waters of the United States’ places the federal government in the seat of being the nation’s land-use ‘czar.’”

(Regulators gone wild – Doc 3049

Liberty Matters News Service is a publication of Liberty Matters, P.O. Box 1207, Taylor, TX 76574, 1-800-847-0227,

For more information, contact Liberty Matters via e-mail at Liberty Matters News Service is published weekly.

From the Sept. 20-26, 2006, issue

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