Before Congress adjourned at the end of 2022, they enacted a comprehensive Omnibus Spending bill that President Biden signed into law. In addition to funding the federal government for the current fiscal year ending on September 30, 2023, the bill included a variety of policy changes that will benefit land conservation activities in Maine and across the country. The state’s four congressional leaders played pivotal roles throughout.
First, the Omnibus bill included the Charitable Conservation Easement Program Integrity Act. MCHT and land trusts across the nation have been working with the Land Trust Alliance in support of this measure for many years. The act will effectively shut down a tax avoidance scheme using the federal conservation easement tax incentive, which was made permanent by Congress in 2015.
As an early co-sponsor, Maine Senator Susan Collins was a leader in support of this critically important legislation to ensure conservation easements are being done to further conservation goals and not to avoid paying taxes.
Second, the spending legislation included a provision introduced by Senator King and Congressman Golden to create the Downeast Maine National Heritage Area. This designation recognizes the national contributions of Downeast Maine’s natural resources industries – including wild blueberries, fishing, and forestry. After years of hard work by many residents of Downeast Maine, including the wild blueberry growers who initiated the process, this legislation creates the 56th National Heritage Area in the United States and the first one in Maine.
Lastly, the end of the year appropriations measure designated the York River as a National Park Service “Wild and Scenic” river. Strongly supported by US Representative Chellie Pingree, the new designation also enjoyed significant local backing from the surrounding communities. The various regional partners will continue to work within the federal program to enhance the York River’s water quality, historical features, natural resources, and economic significance.
In addition to these highlights from the Omnibus bill, Congress and the President once again agreed to invest into grant programs administered under the Land and Water Conservation Fund, the Forest Legacy Act, and the North American Wetlands Conservation Act. All three have been vital conservation funding programs for projects across Maine, each strongly supported by the state’s entire congressional delegation.