Robert Miller: Closing cryptocurrency tax loophole is key to funding landmark bill to save wildlife – CT Insider
A young bog turtle could be saved through the the Recovering America’s Wildlife Act.
Bitcoins, bats and bog turtles?
One may seems to have nothing to do with the others.
But closing a cryptocurrency tax loophole may save what has been called the most important wildlife conservation legislation in decades — the Recovering America’s Wildlife Act.
“It would be the biggest thing to help wildlife in a generation,’’ said Alex Taurel, conservation program director for the League of Conservation Voters.
The bill’s fate now lies with the U.S. Senate, as it works in the final days of its current session.
It’s a narrowing window, but those supporting the act believe that, in the final push to get things done, the bill will pass.
“I absolutely do,’’ said Jenny Dickson, director of the wildlife division of the state Department of Environmental Protection. “I think the signs are good.’’
“I’m cautiously optimistic,’’ said Robert LaFrance, policy director for Audubon Connecticut, the state chapter of the National Audubon Society.
The bill seemed likely to pass this summer. The U.S. House of Representatives had approved it, and the bill had moved through the proper Senate committees. It had enough bipartisan support to override a filibuster.
U.S. Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., is one of the bill’s sponsors.
But the house version had never clearly specified how to pay for the act. The Senate has been working on that, and at this late date, it hopes to close a tax loophole concerning cryptocurrency transactions.
Federal regulations don’t currently allow people to buy a stock, sell it and then quickly buy it again — what’s called wash trading.
The wild west of cryptocurrency trading has no such regulations. Dealers in cryptocurrency can buy and sell currencies quickly to manipulate the market in their favor.
The Senate is now prepared to close the tax loophole, which could earn the federal government as much as $1 billion a year in new tax revenues.
That money would pay for the Recovering America’s Wildlife Act. While the Senate’s final work could change these estimates, Connecticut could get $7.8 million of that money in 2023 and over $10 million in 2024 and 2025.
It’s dearly needed. Dickson said that DEEP gets most of its wildlife conservation funding from the 1937 Pittman-Robertson Act, which levies taxes on hunting and fishing gear, then redistributes the money to the states.
But Dickson said Connecticut can spend this money only on conservation projects involving birds and mammals. That leaves out reptiles, amphibians, insects and plants, which, ecologically are all bound together.
For example, Dickson said, it’s clear that insect-eating birds in the state — swallows, chimney swifts, nighthawks, whip-poor-wills — are in decline. But the DEEP lacks the funds to study insect life and determine whether the declining bird numbers are due to diminishing food supply.
It cannot study the connection between plants and pollinating insects or to protect the habitats where these plants flourish.
It also lacks the money to study species such as the bog turtle, an endangered species that could, without protection, become the state’s first reptile to be extirpated — extinct within our boundaries.
Dickson said the funds could also be used to react aggressively to forestall environmental emergencies. In 2008, when a fungal disease called white-nose syndrome hit Connecticut’s bat population, the state lacked funding to respond to what became an ecological disaster. Now, four bat species are listed as endangered species in the state.
Lori Brown, director of the Connecticut League of Conservation Voters, said the state also needs to focus on the profound changes climate change will bring, as well as the whittling away of the state’s open space land.
“It’s the death of a thousand cuts,’’ she said of the development-by-development encroachment.
The funds could also be used to hire high school and college students to do wildlife conservation work, LaFrance said. There would be funds to engage our youth in conservation work,’’ he said.
If the Senate fails to pass the act, work on it would have to begin again in the House of Representatives. In 2023, Republicans will be the majority party in the House, and it’s unlikely they would rally around major environmental legislation.
What’s hoped for now is that the Recovering America’s Wildlife Act will be folded into the Omnibus Spending bill — the big appropriations spending package that funds the federal government every year.
“If they want to keep the government running, they have to pass it,’’ Dickson said.
Contact Robert Miller at firstname.lastname@example.org
Robert Miller has been working as a reporter in western Connecticut since 1978. He has covered the environment for about half that time. In 2014, he retired from day-to-day reporting, but has continued to write a weekly column on the environment for The News-Times in Danbury. He’s a birder and a gardener and a bookworm who lives in the exurbs – the rural suburbs. He thinks the world we live in — even his tiny corner — is an endlessly fascinating place and he has been very lucky to write about it.