Carbon Dioxide and the IRS?

Gain from selling carbon dioxide allowances didn’t generate foreign personal holding company income PLR 200825009

Mike Habib, EA

IRS has privately ruled that gain from the sale of surplus carbon dioxide allowances didn’t constitute foreign personal holding company income (FPHCI) under Code Sec. 954(c). It concluded that the emissions allowances were excepted because they were intangible property used in the controlled foreign corporations’ trade or business.

Facts. Taxpayer indirectly owns through a chain of foreign subsidiaries an unspecified percentage of the vote and value of Corporation A. The remaining interest is owned by unrelated parties. Corporation A engages in Industry M in Country A, where it is organized.

Taxpayer also indirectly owns 100% of the vote and value of Partnership B, a Country B entity that is treated as a controlled foreign partnership under Code Sec. 6038(e) . An unspecified percentage of Partnership B is directly owned by Corporation C, a controlled foreign corporation (CFC) of Taxpayer, organized in Country A. The remaining interest of Partnership B is directly owned by a domestic subsidiary corporation of Taxpayer. Partnership B engages in Industry M and other industries in Country B.

Countries A and B are members of the European Union (EU), which has developed the Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS) to regulate the emissions of carbon dioxide or its equivalent within certain industries, including Industry M. Beginning on Jan. 1, 2008, the ETS was expanded to include regulation of 5 other greenhouse gases. Corporation A and Partnership B are subject to the ETS.

Under the ETS, member states may emit specified amounts, measured in units, of the regulated greenhouse gases. The emissions capacity of each member state is represented by an allocation of allowances to it. Corporation A and Partnership B received carbon dioxide allowances from Country A and Country B, respectively, in Year 1 and Year 2. A business must surrender its allocated allowances for any year to the relevant authority in amounts equal to its emissions for the year. To the extent the measured emissions of a business exceed its allowances, a fine is imposed. However, to the extent a business has excess allowances, it may sell any surplus to another person. Corporation A and Partnership B had surplus allowances in Year 1 and Year 2, which were sold to unrelated purchasers.

Carbon dioxide allowances are traded over the counter and on exchanges such as the European Climate Exchange, the European Energy Exchange and Nordpool.

Background. Under Code Sec. 951(a), a U.S. shareholder of a CFC must include in gross income its pro-rata share of the CFC’s subpart F income for the tax year.

A U.S. shareholder is any U.S. person (as defined in Code Sec. 957(c)) who owns (under Code Sec. 958) 10% or more of the total combined voting power of all classes of stock entitled to vote of such foreign corporation. (Code Sec. 951(b))

A CFC is any foreign corporation if more than 50% of the total combined voting power of all classes of its stock or more than 50% of the total value of its stock is owned by U.S. shareholders on any day during the tax year of such foreign corporation. (Code Sec. 957(a))

Subpart F income includes foreign base company income. (Code Sec. 952(a))
Under Reg. § 1.952-1(g)(1), a CFC’s distributive share of any item of income of a partnership is income that falls within a category of subpart F income, as defined in Code Sec. 952(a), to the extent the item of income would have been income in such category if received by the CFC directly.

Code Sec. 954(a) defines four categories of foreign base company income, including FPHCI.
Code Sec. 954(c)(1)(C) provides, in part, that FPHCI includes the excess of gains over losses from transactions in any commodity. Commodity, for this purpose, includes tangible personal property of a kind that is actively traded or with respect to which contractual interests are actively traded. (Reg. § 1.954-2(f)(2)(i)) There are, however, exceptions. For example, net commodities gain that is included in FPHC income for subpart F purposes does not include active business gains or losses from the sale of commodities, if substantially all of the CFC’s commodities are property described in Code Sec. 1221(a)(1) (inventory), Code Sec. 1221(a)(2) (property used in a trade or business subject to depreciation), or Code Sec. 1221(a)(8) (supplies used or consumed by the CFC in its trade or business). (Code Sec. 954(c)(1)(C)(ii))

Code Sec. 954(c)(1)(B)(iii) provides that FPHCI includes the excess of gains over losses from the sale of property which does not give rise to any income. However, under Reg. § 1.954-2(e)(3)(iii), property that does not give rise to income excludes intangible property (under Code Sec. 936(h)(3)(B)) to the extent used or held for use in the CFC’s trade or business.

Reg. § 1.954-2(a)(5) provides special rules for calculating FPHCI applicable to distributive shares of partnership income. Under Reg. § 1.954-2(a)(5)(ii)(A), the exclusion provided by Reg. § 1.954-2(e)(3) applies only if such exception would have applied to exclude the income from FPHCI if the CFC had earned the income directly, determined by taking into account only the activities of, and property owned by, the partnership and not the separate activities or property of the CFC or any other person.

Code Sec. 936(h)(3)(B)(iv) and Code Sec. 936(h)(3)(B)(vi) include in the definition of intangible property any franchise, license, or contract, or any similar item, which has substantial value independent of the services of any individual.

Reg. § 1.954-2(a)(2) provides coordination rules for overlapping categories under the FPHCI provisions. Under those rules, gain or loss from commodities transactions under Code Sec. 954(c)(1)(C) take priority over gain under Code Sec. 954(c)(1)(B).

Analysis. IRS said it was currently studying the question of whether carbon dioxide allowances should be viewed as commodities for purposes of Code Sec. 954(c)(1)(C). However, it stated that, solely for purposes of PLR 200825009, IRS believes it is appropriate at this point to analyze carbon dioxide allowances as property that does not give rise to income under Code Sec. 954(c)(1)(B)(iii). No inference is intended as to whether the allowances are properly considered commodities for purposes of Code Sec. 954 or any other Code section.

The ruling noted that Reg. § 1.954-2(e)(3)(iv) provides that intangible property is excluded from FPHCI to the extent used or held for use in the CFC’s trade or business. But this is applied to CFC partners by taking into account only the activities of the partnership.

In this case, possession of carbon dioxide allowances is necessary to operate in Industry M. Because each allowance permits the holder to engage in a business activity otherwise unlawful, without penalty, the allocation of an allowance by a member state is the granting of an intangible property right to each business to emit carbon dioxide to a set limit. The value of the allowance is independent of the performance of services by any individual. Thus, for purposes of Code Sec. 954(c)(1)(B), the allowances are intangible property under Code Sec. 936(h)(3)(B). However, to qualify for the exclusion of Reg. § 1.954-2(e)(3)(iv), the intangible property of Corporation A and Partnership B must be used or held for use in Corporation A and Partnership B’s trade or business.

Based on the facts presented, IRS concluded that Corporation A and Partnership B held the carbon dioxide allowances to offset emissions resulting from the operation of their businesses in Industry M. Thus, Corporation A and Partnership B held the emissions allowances for use in their trade or business. Therefore, the allowances are intangible property held for use in a trade or business within the meaning of Reg. § 1.954-2(e)(3)(iv) and gain from their sale is properly excluded from the definition of FPHCI found in Code Sec. 954(c)(1)(B)(iii) by Corporation A and Corporation C.

Bottom line. Gain from the sale of surplus carbon dioxide allowances by Corporation A and Partnership B does not constitute FPHCI within the meaning of Code Sec. 954(c) to Corporation A or Corporation C.