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  1. GOAL: To invest strategically in the land estate of the United States in order to restore and preserve the economic value [and beauty] of our natural infrastructure, a critically important platform for our Nationís future.
  2. PROGRAM: To allow $25 billion in transferable Federal tax credits to be used to acquire conservation easements with every State participating.
  3. TERM: Five years, unless the program is extended by Congress.
  4. ANNUAL ALLOCATION: The amount of available tax credits shall increase each year, with $4 billion the first year, $4.5 billion the second, $5.0 billion the third, $5.5 billion the fourth, and $6.0 billion the fifth.
  5. ALLOCATION AMONG STATES: The tax credits shall be allocated among the States based on a formula under which a State receives a percentage of the annual credits equal to the amount of private open space (i.e., the total amount of private farm, ranch, and forest land) that it has relative to the total amount of such land in the United States. Notwithstanding this formula, no State shall receive an initial annual allocation that exceeds 4% of the total amount of credits. (See Exhibit A for sample allocations.)
  6. REALLOCATION OF UNUSED DOLLARS: If any State shall fail to use its allocated annual share of tax credits in any of the five years, the amount not used shall be forfeited and transferred to a national pool that shall be reallocated pursuant to regulations that the Secretaries of Interior and Agriculture shall determine.
  7. ACQUIRING CONSERVATION EASEMENTS: The conservation easements shall be acquired at a price equal to or less than the fair market value of the easement. The easements shall be negotiated and acquired by existing 501(c)(3) conservation organizations. Their tasks will include not only acquiring the easements, but also obtaining taxpayers who are willing to buy the transferable credits in order for the transactions to close. The organization must not only comply with all of the requirements of the program, but also with all other Federal and State laws and regulations. (Note: These organizations currently work with governments to acquire most of the properties conserved for public purposes today. Using them pursuant to this legislation recognizes that reality as well as precludes the necessity of creating a federal bureaucracy to accomplish the goal.)
    1. FEDERAL PARTICIPATION: The Federal Government establishes the program and controls it by establishing its objectives, its tactics, its funding, and the means by which it is evaluated.
    2. The Federal Government also determines what qualifies as a conservation easement under the program.
  8. STATE PARTICIPATION: Each State is allocated a specific amount of credits. It must manage their use and allocate the credits among the various alternatives that are presented for their use within the State. [The bill will be amended to provide that in order to qualify for the reallocated national pool, a State must devise a strategic plan for best protecting its natural infrastructure. This will promote strategic conservation based on local knowledge and needs.]
  9. CITIZEN PARTICIPATION: Each Federal taxpayer can participate by allocating from its Federal tax liabilities for the program, soliciting other citizens to allocate their Federal tax liabilities, participating as employees or volunteers with the conservation organizations, selling or encouraging other to sell conservation easements under the program, and/or participating in the various governmental efforts associated with the program.
  10. MODELS: This program uses existing law concerning conservation easements that has evolved at the Federal level successfully over the past thirty years. The structure of the program itself is based on the very successful tax credit program for low income housing.

Christopher Glenn Sawyer

Alston & Bird LLP
1201 West Peachtree Street
Atlanta, Georgia 30309-3424