Being Green and the Law


Quick Facts

  • Lawmakers and politicians have created some big legal incentives for you to live a much more energy-efficient lifestyle.
  • A provision in the IRS tax code allows employees to use a portion of their salaries, on a pre-tax basis, for a qualified transportation fringe benefit towards commuting costs.
  • Federal law gives homeowners a tax credit of up to 30% of the cost of qualified solar water heaters and photovoltaic systems, up to $2,000.

JOEL ZAND, FindLaw.com


Suing Over Solar: It’s Not Easy Being Green

Do you think that protecting the environment means having to eat granola, wear Birkenstocks to work, and slather tofu cubes onto a heaping plate of veggies? Guess again.

For one California couple that installed solar panels on their roof, protecting the environment meant suing their next-door neighbors. The neighbors’ redwood trees cast a shadow over their solar system, hurting their eco-investment

A state judge agreed with them, concluding that since shadows from the neighbors’ trees interfered with their solar equipment, the tree owners violated California’s Solar Shade Control Act.

"I can almost guarantee there are going to be more conflicts," concluded Frank Schiavo, a retired professor of environmental studies at San Jose State University.

When Kermit the Frog’s cautioned that “it’s not easy being green,” he probably didn’t have a lawyer to make his case.

Saving Green By Being Green

Protecting the environment isn’t just about saving the planet today, and for generations to come. Lawmakers and politicians have created some big legal incentives for you to live a much more energy-efficient lifestyle.

From tax incentives and commuter discounts, to rebates on appliances, here are a few perfectly legal ways to save money and the planet at the same time.

Commuter Discounts

A provision in the IRS tax code (28 U.S.C. Section 132(f)) allows employees to use a portion of their salaries, on a pre-tax basis, for a qualified transportation fringe benefit towards commuting costs.

Employees set aside up to $115 a month for using public transportation with special transit passes, vouchers, and debit cards, and up to $220/month for commuter-related parking expenses. Employers save big too by not having to pay employment taxes on this employee benefit.

Tax Credits for Solar Energy and Energy-Efficient Vehicles

Federal law gives homeowners a tax credit of up to 30% of the cost of qualified solar water heaters and photovoltaic (‘PV’) systems, up to $2,000. Many states also give homeowners an additional tax credit for installing a PV solar system. States like California, New York, and Florida have them. Your state’s energy and tax departments can help you find out if yours offers them too.

What’s great is that tax credits are dollar-for-dollar discounts on your tax bill, unlike deductions. That means a $1,000 tax credit would reduce your tax bill by $1,000, but a 30% tax deduction would probably only lower your tax bill by $300 on that same $1,000. Of course, you should always check with your tax and finance professionals to find out if you could benefit from the savings.

Federal tax credits are still available to buyers of some hybrid gasoline-electric, diesel, battery-electric, alternative fuel, and fuel cell vehicles. According to the IRS, credits for hybrid and diesel vehicles made by each manufacturer will be phased out over 15 months, beginning after that manufacturer has sold 60,000 eligible vehicles. Consult with your accountant or tax lawyer to discuss your particular financial situation.

Sources:

Ads by FindLaw