Endangered Species:

Sen. Crapo, NWF's Kostyack discuss specifics of new ESA tax-incentive bill

The Endangered Species Recovery Act of 2007, sponsored by Sens. Mike Crapo (R-Idaho) and Blanche Lincoln (D-Ark.), seeks to provide farmers with tax incentives to protect the endangered species on their land. During today's OnPoint, Sen. Mike Crapo (R-Idaho) and National Wildlife Federation senior counsel John Kostyack discuss this new piece of legislation. They explain how it differs from previous ESA legislation and talk about how they were able to gain bipartisan support and the support of both farmers and environmentalists.

Transcript

Monica Trauzzi: Welcome to OnPoint. I'm Monica Trauzzi. Joining me today are Senator Mike Crapo, Republican of Idaho, and National Wildlife Federation senior counsel John Kostyack. Gentlemen, thanks for joining me.

Mike Crapo: Thank you.

John Kostyack: Thanks.

Monica Trauzzi: Senator, you just introduced the Endangered Species Recovery Act of 2007 with Senator Lincoln. Talk about the specifics of the legislation and what it's going to mean for farmers.

Mike Crapo: Well, this is really an exciting bill. And it starts out from the premise that 80 percent of the endangered or threatened species in this country are on private property. And this bill focuses on incentivizing private property owners to participate in recovery act support or in doing things outside of recovery plans that would enable their property to be better utilized for species recovery. And it's just a super idea. The core of the bill is basically in three areas. A private property owner, who wants to participate, will get a tax credit for either a perpetual easement or a 30-year easement or an easement of a negotiated period of time. And then also, outside of the easement potential, there is the possibility of working in qualified plans. Meaning working on the land to improve habitat or to fence off streams or whatever types of activities, on the land, will help to benefit the species that are involved. And there's tax credits for those who will participate in these activities, So it's very simple.

Monica Trauzzi: And how much of a tax incentive would it be?

Mike Crapo: It depends on the kind of agreement that the land owner reaches. But, for example, for a landowner who is willing to give a perpetual easement and then work with management activities, 100 percent tax credit. For those who go a 30-year easement, it's a 75 percent tax credit. And for those who deal in lower numbers of years or who don't want to do an easement, but would prefer to simply have recovery actions on their property and engage in those, it's a 50 percent tax credit.

Monica Trauzzi: How does this differ from the bill that was introduced in December?

Mike Crapo: Well, the bill that we introduced in December approached the same idea from just different perspectives. This bill really works more like a farm bill program, a farm bill program, and it's a change to the tax code that will literally provide incentives just like our farm bill programs for wetlands restoration or for the forest improvement or the rangeland improvements. And will work with, like I say, with private property owners to help them incentivize financially their activities to benefit species.

Monica Trauzzi: How significant was this year's farm bill when you were putting this together?

Mike Crapo: Well, it was significant in the sense that we have all the excitement and the interest about the farm bill that's going on, but really unrelated. This bill, the idea of doing it this way, was not tied to the fact that we are doing a farm bill also this year.

Monica Trauzzi: John, NWF is supporting the bill. Talk about what sealed the deal for your organization in supporting the legislation.

John Kostyack: We see this bill as a major political breakthrough. We've been in gridlock debating Endangered Species Act for probably 15 years. Now we have an opportunity to come together in what I would consider to be a grand coalition of political bedfellows, all around the basic concept that private landowners are crucial to endangered species recovery. And we needed to do more than just protect habitat. We need them to get involved in managing habitat, removing exotics, helping protect streams, all these kind of things we've known for years that are essential. We've actually had a consensus on this point, but there's been this distracting over the debate about the Endangered Species Act. We see this wonderful opportunity now. All of our grassroots are very fired up about this bill, for helping private landowners who want to do the right thing on the land. And we see this as a, we're going to make history here.

Monica Trauzzi: And like you mentioned, environmentalists and farmers have been able to come together this time around. The American Farm Bureau is basically agreeing with you guys on this. Do you think that the legislation goes far enough or did it need to be scaled back in order to get that type of support?

John Kostyack: We don't feel like it had to be scaled back to get the support of the farmers, ranchers, or conservation groups because we basically all have agreed on this concept for quite awhile. There was a little bit of scaling back to address potential concerns to fiscal conservatives. So there is a cap on the overall amount of dollars that will be available under this bill, but that's the only, that's not even a sure cut. Because we think the amount of dedicated funding available for wildlife conservation in this bill will be extremely significant to landowners who are working on the ground.

Monica Trauzzi: The President's proposed $1.287 billion for The Fish and Wildlife Service. It's less than what was received in fiscal 2006. What are your thoughts about the amount of money that the President has appropriated?

Mike Crapo: Well, frankly, I'm concerned with the President's proposal because it doesn't adequately fund and, in some cases, zeros that out, some of the very important programs that need to operate for our Fish and Wildlife Services. And so I'm hopeful that the Congress will restore those funds. It's important to note though that if we get those funds restored that still brings us right back to this bill. This bill goes much further than those funding dollars that we're talking about and provides a giant leap forward for that effort to financially incentivize private property owners to get engaged in their property.

John Kostyack: That's right. I mean, Monica, what we've heard in talking with our private land owners we partner with is that they need some kind of predictability and certainty. And having a dedicated source of funding in the tax code is really so much better for their needs than having to count on the annual appropriations cycle.

Monica Trauzzi: So are you fearful that less funding will affect the future of this legislation at all?

Mike Crapo: No. Actually, I believe that those two funding issues, the funding related to this bill and the funding related to the Endangered Species Act and the Fish and Wildlife Service, will proceed on separate tracks. They're related, but they will be separate tracks. I think it's important to note here that this bill will be referred to the finance committee because it's really a tax bill. And in that context I also think it's important to note that there's broad bipartisan support. We've got a lot of Republican and Democrat cosponsors. But key to that is that the chairman of the finance committee, Max Baucus, and the ranking member of the finance committee, Chuck Grassley, are cosponsors, as is the majority leader Harry Reid. So we have been doing our homework on the political level to try to make sure that we have that coalition together that can move forward.

Monica Trauzzi: And speaking about ESA more broadly, with the President's fiscal priorities taken into account and Congress' priorities taken into account, how much do you think is actually going to get done with ESA this year?

Mike Crapo: Well, my best guess is that this bill is probably the one that will define the potential. We've been working, as John says, for 15 years or 20 years, trying to find a way to bring the various groups together that need to come together to take down the rhetoric and move forward with some kind of common ground. And this is where that common ground is coming together. Now, I think on the budget side, I think that we'll be able to restore a lot, if not all of those funds. And then this bill will define the next step forward. I would just say there, in addition to that support that I talked about for the bill among members of the Senate, we have over a hundred groups I think it is that range from the environmental community to the private property owners to those who are interested in terms of wildlife activities, the conservation groups, and the list is growing. And so I really believe that this Congress, this bill will define the debate forward. And it's my hope that it will set a new tone for approaching Endangered Species Act legislation.

Monica Trauzzi: So you're confident that this won't be the only piece of legislation that we see regarding ESA this year?

Mike Crapo: It's probably not the only piece that we will see because there are always lots of different bills introduced on the Endangered Species Act. And John can certainly attest to that and I'd love to hear your two cents on this, but the bottom line is most of those have not gone through the process that this one has. Like I said, we've been working on this for five years with folks like John and others. And it really is coming together to where I think this one will define the battleground. And I don't even want to use the word battleground. It will define the arena in which we approach Endangered Species Act legislation, and it will change the arena in the sense of making it a more, a less conflict oriented debate and a more result oriented debate in Congress.

John Kostyack: I think that's absolutely right. I think we will not waste any time with the distractions of the groups who hate the Endangered Species Act, groups like mine, who think the Endangered Species Act have been a great success story. We know that we're not going to get anything done on that debate this Congress. What we know, absolutely, is that we have all of the key groups together. The political stars are now aligned to get this particular, this piece of legislation passed. And so that's where we're putting all of our energy and our members are thrilled about that. We want to get some of accomplishments on the ground. If there's an unproductive debate on the Endangered Species Act we're not going to waste our time on it. This is where the action is.

Monica Trauzzi: Any concern that the bigger issues, the upcoming presidential campaign might outshine this piece of legislation and movement forward on it?

Mike Crapo: I actually don't have any concern about that. As a matter of fact, I believe that this bill provides a place where people who are interested in the Endangered Species Act, from any perspective, can come and be positive. And I think that in the Presidential campaign, as well as in all of the other legislative or congressional campaigns, people are going to want to be finding these kinds of positive, collaborative solutions to be for. And so, if anything, I think it will be helped.

John Kostyack: That's right. I can't imagine there's a politician right now who wants to step in front of this. I'll be surprised I should say, because when you have private landowners from back home who say, yes, I want to help endangered species. The main obstacle has been lack of funding and technical assistance. Here's a bill that provides that. It's difficult to see what the objections are going to be. No matter where you stand on the Endangered Species Act this bill doesn't touch it and so you don't have to comment one way or the other on how you feel about the Endangered Species Act. This bill is essentially a step beyond.

Monica Trauzzi: All right, we will end it there. Senator and John, thanks for joining me.

Mike Crapo: Thank you.

John Kostyack: Thank you.

Monica Trauzzi: This is OnPoint. I'm Monica Trauzzi. Thanks for watching.

[End of Audio]

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