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Tax Incentives for Environmental Remediation Costs

Federal, state and local governments offer numerous tax incentives to promote the cleanup of environmentally contaminated properties. Learn more about incentives and federal rules regarding the expensing of environmental remediation.

May 2008
by Thomas Alberte/The Tax Adviser

Federal Tax Incentives

The primary federal tax incentive — available since August 5, 1997 — has been to allow the expensing of environmental (or “brownfield”) remediation costs that would normally have to be capitalized (Sec. 198). However, these rules recently expired and do not apply to costs incurred after December 31, 2007. As a result, unless Congress extends the expiration date or makes Sec. 198 permanent, these costs will have to be capitalized under Sec. 263(a).

With the expensing option no longer available for costs paid or incurred after December 31, 2007, taxpayers now have to analyze their environmental remediation costs more closely to determine whether they can still expense some costs under Sec. 162. In making this determination, certain expenditures will now be subject to the same expensing/capitalization rules as other expenditures. Also, even if these expenditures are allowed to be currently expensed under Sec. 162, they might still have to be included in inventory under the uniform capitalization rules of Sec. 263A (Rev. Rul. 2004-18).

A number of federal cases and rulings have shed some light on whether environmental remediation costs are currently deductible or have to be capitalized. In the absence of Sec. 198, these should be reviewed in order to determine the appropriate treatment of costs. (See Rev. Rul. 94-38; Rev. Rul. 2004-18; Plainfield-Union Water, 39 TC 333 (1962).)

Prospects for extension: Although several bills were introduced in 2007 that would make the Sec. 198 brownfields tax incentive permanent, none of these bills has been considered by the House Ways and Means Committee. The president’s fiscal year 2009 budget proposal also includes a provision to permanently extend the expensing of brownfield remediation costs.

State Tax Incentives

Many states provide tax and nontax incentives to encourage brownfield and environmental cleanup. The most common types of tax incentives include:

  • Current expensing of capitalizable remediation costs;
  • Income tax credits;
  • Property tax abatements and exemptions; and
  • Tax incremental financing.

Environmental Remediation Cost Expensing

With the exception of Alaska, Florida, Nevada, South Dakota, Texas, Washington and Wyoming, most states that have a tax based on income use federal taxable income as the starting point for determining state taxable income. The two exceptions are Arkansas and Minnesota, which use their own set of rules. However, even these two states make reference to federal taxable income in their determination of state taxable income. The states will then make modifications to federal taxable income to arrive at state taxable income before apportionment.

California and New Hampshire are two states that modify federal taxable income with respect to Sec. 198. California allows expensing similar to Sec. 198 under its own set of rules but allows only the expensing of costs incurred on or before December 31, 2003 (CA Rev. & Tax. Code §24369.4). Other states that conform to the Code as of a date before the extension of Sec. 198 through 2007 may allow remediation costs to be expensed, but their effective date may not match the federal date.

Practice tip: Taxpayers need to determine how their states treat environmental remediation costs. This will become even more critical if Sec. 198 is not extended.

Income Tax Credits

Many states (including Colorado, Florida, Indiana, Kentucky, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Michigan, Mississippi, Missouri, New York, South Carolina and Wisconsin) provide some form of income tax credit for brownfield and environmental remediation. The amount of the credit is usually equal to a percentage of the remediation costs up to a designated amount. Some states allow only a non-responsible party to claim the credit. In almost all states the taxpayer must obtain approval from the appropriate government agency before undertaking the remediation.

State and Local Property Tax Abatements and Exemptions

States and some municipalities (including Connecticut, Georgia, Idaho, Indiana, Maryland, Missouri, New Jersey, South Carolina, Texas and Virginia) also provide for property tax abatements and exemptions for cleaning up contaminated property. The amount of the exemption or abatement is often equal to a percentage of the increase in the property’s value as a result of the remediation.

The exemption or abatement is usually allowed for a limited number of years. For example, Idaho allows a seven-year property tax abatement equal to 50 percent of the increase in the property’s value as a result of the remediation (ID Code §63-602BB). Maryland allows a 50 percent to 70 percent, five- or 10-year property tax credit (MD Code Tax-Prop. §9-229). In most cases, the incentive applies only to real property, but in a few states, including Indiana (IN Code §6-1.1-42-23) and Ohio (OH Rev. Code §5709.65), personal property used at the remediated site might also qualify.

Some states, such as Indiana, Massachusetts and Wisconsin, provide for the forgiveness of delinquent property taxes to any purchaser of the property who agrees to remediate it (IN Code §6-1.1-45.5; MA Gen. Laws Ch. 59A; and WI Stat. §75.105).

Taxpayers almost always have to enter into an agreement with the appropriate state or local government or agency before undertaking the remediation.

Tax Incremental Financing

States and their municipalities also use tax incremental financing (TIF) to help finance the development of brownfields. When TIF is used, the state or municipality provides financing to a developer or business to help clean up a site. The financing is typically provided in one of two ways:

By borrowing funds and then providing those funds to the developer or business at the beginning of the project to help cover environmental remediation costs. The municipality will then pay off the debt service with the increased property tax generated by the remediated property.

By having the developer or business use its own funds to pay for the environmental remediation costs. Typically, the funds will be treated as a loan from the developer or business to the municipality. The municipality then pays the debt service with the increased property tax generated by the remediated property. The municipality’s obligation under the loan is usually limited to the tax increment generated by the project.

The latter structure reduces the financial risk to the municipality if the project does not generate enough incremental tax revenue to pay off the loan to the developer or business.

Some states have TIF rules that specifically apply to environmental remediation projects; others have TIF rules that allow remediation costs to be included in projects where environmental remediation represents just a portion of the overall project development cost. The taxpayer will be required to enter into an agreement with a state or local government or agency in order to obtain TIF incentives.

Conclusion

It is possible that Sec. 198 will not be extended and for federal tax purposes taxpayers will no longer be able to expense capitalizable environmental remediation costs incurred after December 31, 2007. As a result, taxpayers will need to determine whether some of these costs are deductible under Sec. 162 or whether they will need to be included in inventory under Sec. 263A. The same determination will need to be made at the state level.

There are other tax incentives available, primarily at the state and local levels, to help developers and businesses clean up “brownfields” and other contaminated properties. In most cases these incentives are not available unless the taxpayer enters into an agreement with the appropriate government agency. Thus, advance planning is required to take full advantage of these incentives.

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Thomas J. Alberte, CPA, MBA, MST, Milwaukee, WI, is a contributing writer for The Tax Adviser. His views as expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect the views of the AICPA, The Tax Adviser or the AICPA CPA Insider™.

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