Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Crapo seeks tax credits for endangered species work

In 2008, U.S. Sen. Mike Crapo accomplished part of his plan to encourage landowners to work with the Endangered Species Act, securing a permanent tax deduction for species expenditures on private land.

But that was only half of what Crapo, R-Idaho, set out to do. He’s now trying once more to get Congress to approve similar tax credits, competing with a number of other tax proposals in the wake of the mortgage crisis and recession.

The senator on March 24 introduced the Endangered Species Recovery Act of 2010, which would provide credits for both habitat protection easements and restoration work. Co-sponsored by eight other senators both Republican and Democrat — including fellow Idahoan Jim Risch, Sam Brownback of Kansas, Olympia Snowe of Maine and Jon Tester of Montana — it’s been referred to the Senate Finance Committee, where Crapo is a member.

The bill is another step in Crapo’s pursuit of piece-by-piece ESA reform. On Friday, he told the Times-News that he believes he has support for the bill’s substance, but is concerned its cost may once again block its passage. The credits would cost nearly $1 billion in the first five years and more than $1 billion in the second five years.

“There’s only a certain amount of flexibility in the budget for that sort of” cost, he said.

Pay-as-you-go rules — where the Senate must offset every new expense with a cut somewhere else — stopped the bill the last time and are still a concern now. But the new version’s odds might improve this fall, Crapo said, once the Senate starts looking at tax packages focused on broader issues than just mortgages. The credits, he said, would help generate natural-resources jobs in rural areas that desperately need the employment right now.

“It’s hard to predict right now how that will play out,” he said of passing the bill.

Crapo has previously said large-scale ESA reform would be very difficult. But he’s considering proposing a broader change once his tax credit passes: paring down the current “centralized command and control” approach to species listing and recovery in favor of consensus-based decisions involving local governments and groups.

Whether he pursues it will depend heavily on the makeup of Congress after this fall’s election, he said. And, of course, it will depend on when he gets the rest of his tax incentives passed.

“We’re not going to stop until we get the entire bill put into place,” he said.

Nate Poppino may be reached at or 735-3237.

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