PDF _ RL34184 - The Section 198 Brownfields Tax Incentive: 2007 CRS Survey
25-Sep-2007; Mark Reisch ; 21 p.

Abstract: What was regarded as a key brownfields tax incentive in the Internal Revenue Code expires on December 31, 2007. Originally enacted in the Taxpayer Relief Act of 1997 (P.L. 105-34), the provision allows a taxpayer to fully deduct the costs of environmental cleanup in the year the costs were incurred (called “expensing”), rather than spreading the costs over a period of years (“capitalizing”). The provision was adopted to stimulate the cleanup and development of less seriously contaminated sites by providing a benefit to taxpaying developers of brownfield properties. It also contains a “recapture” provision, which diminishes its benefits. In each of its budget proposals since FY2003, the administration has proposed that Congress make the incentive permanent. The 109th Congress renewed the provision (for the fourth time) through 2007 (P.L. 109-432) and made it effective retroactively to December 31, 2005, when the previous extension expired. The law also made sites contaminated by petroleum products eligible for the tax incentive. The 110th Congress may consider a variety of options, including granting another extension, making the incentive permanent, allowing it to expire, or repealing the recapture requirement.

Until recently, information on the extent of use of the brownfields tax incentive could not be determined from federal income tax returns. Use of a new tax form, Schedule M-3, for corporations and partnerships with assets over $10 million began being phased in with tax year 2004. The first of those data, covering the 2004 tax year, became available in February 2007. They showed that section 198 environmental remediation costs of $295 million were reported by 110 corporations, out of a population of 5,557,965 corporate returns. This information is understated because it excluded more than half of all corporations, and all partnerships.

To take advantage of the tax break, a developer has to obtain a certification from the state environmental agency that the site qualifies as a brownfield. CRS surveyed the agencies of all states in 2003, and again in 2007, to ask how many certification applications they had received and approved. In 2003, 27 states reported that they had received a total of 161 applications since enactment in 1997, of which 147 were approved. In 2007, 29 states reported that they had received 175 applications over the previous four years, of which 170 were approved. The results were somewhat surprising; before enactment in 1997 the Treasury Department and the Environmental Protection Agency had expected it to be used as many as 10,000 times per year.

Accordingly, CRS also asked the state agencies, four private developers, and the editor of a trade publication for their views on why the tax incentive was so little used. There was divided opinion on the utility of the tax incentive, and criticism of its stop-and-go nature due to its expiration and renewal every one or two years. The Schedule M-3 data for firms with more than $10 million in assets confirm the CRS survey findings of modest use of the section 198 brownfields tax incentive. The tax form was fully phased in with tax year 2006, and full information will be available in February 2009. However, as discussed in this report, it appears that the section 198 tax break is a useful tool in some brownfield situations.

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Topics: Pollution, Waste Management, Government

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