IRC 45Q Credit Under IRS Scrutiny: Government Finds Majority of Carbon Oxide Credits Improperly Claimed

In response to a series of questions posed in a November 2019 letter from Senator Menendez (D-NJ), the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration (TIGTA) issued a letter on April 15, 2020, analyzing carbon oxide credits under Internal Revenue Code (IRC) section 45Q. For tax years between 2010 and 2019, TIGTA found that up to 87% of the value of the credits claimed were not in compliance with Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) monitoring, reporting, and verification requirements.

IRC section 45Q provides a credit to taxpayers that capture and sequester carbon oxide. The credit was initially enacted into law in 2008, then substantially revised in 2018. As part of the revisions, the credit was expanded from solely carbon dioxide capture to include a broader set of carbon oxide emissions. This substantially expanded the class of taxpayers eligible to claim the credit. Although Treasury released some guidance in February 2020, there are still many unresolved questions about the expanded carbon oxide credit, and many taxpayers are waiting to move forward with additional projects pending release of that guidance.

The TIGTA analysis covers tax years 2010–2019, so it will primarily include carbon dioxide projects. The letter reports that only 10 out of the 672 taxpayers who claimed the IRC section 45Q credit received over $1 million in credits, and these 10 taxpayers represent 99.86% of the total value of all IRC section 45Q credits, around $1.02 billion. An examination of return data found that 87% of the credits claimed by these 10 taxpayers may have been improper because there was not an approved EPA monitoring, reporting, and verification plan in place when the credits were claimed. TIGTA reported that the IRS had already taken action against 4 of these 10 taxpayers—disallowing approximately 60% of the improperly claimed credits. Additional enforcement activity may target taxpayers who claimed large amounts of carbon sequestration credits.

Practice Point: Taxpayers considering investing in carbon oxide sequestration projects should perform extensive diligence on the project and make sure that they technically meet the requirements. We expect that carbon sequestration projects may come under increased scrutiny and result in more audits going forward. Spending the time and resources to ensure that your project conforms to the rules will save you money if the IRS denies your credits. Additionally, make sure to contemporaneously document your efforts to follow the rules; this may assist in penalty abatement if asserted.

Tags: EPA, IRC 45Q, IRS, TIGTA
Andrew R. RobersonAndrew R. Roberson
Andrew (Andy) R. Roberson focuses his practice on tax controversy and litigation matters. He represents clients before the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) Examination Division and Appeals Office and has been involved in more than 50 matters at all levels of the federal court system, including the US Tax Court, several US courts of appeal and the Supreme Court. Andy has experience settling tax disputes through alternative dispute resolution procedures, including Fast Track Settlement and Post-Appeals Mediation, and in representing clients in Compliance Assurance Process (CAP) audits. He also represents individuals in Global High Wealth Industry Group audits and in connection with offshore disclosure programs. Read Andy Roberson's full bio.


Brian MooreBrian Moore
Brian Moore focuses his practice on US and international tax matters. Read Brian Moore's full bio.


Kevin SpencerKevin Spencer
Kevin Spencer focuses his practice on tax controversy issues. Kevin represents clients in complicated tax disputes in court and before the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) at the IRS Appeals and Examination divisions. In addition to his tax controversy practice, Kevin has broad experience advising clients on various tax issues, including tax accounting, employment and reasonable compensation, civil and criminal tax penalties, IRS procedures, reportable transactions and tax shelters, renewable energy, state and local tax, and private client matters. After earning his Master of Tax degree, Kevin had the privilege to clerk for the Honorable Robert P. Ruwe on the US Tax Court. Read Kevin Spencer's full bio.

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