In 2012, Mitt Romney’s campaign put forth a much more direct, and dramatic, suggestion: Keep the leasing federal, but push permitting to the relevant state agencies, of which there is usually just one. Permits would be granted much more quickly, in part because economic incentives would be properly aligned — the communities whose environments would be impacted and whose economies would be stimulated would be the ones to decide. (Of course, some federally owned land is appealing enough to be of significance to America as a whole, but most is not, which is why the federal government hasn’t been tempted to sell it.) Such a reform is probably not politically feasible: The best developers can hope for is that this proposal will spark reform in the federal government.
Which makes the Obama administration’s attitude toward leasing and exploration especially problematic. Perhaps the most obvious indicator of its priorities came in early May, when the California branch of the BLM announced that it did not have the staff and funding to offer leases for drilling in the Monterey Shale, a rich vein for fracking. They even blamed sequestration — but in March, the same office granted permits for solar and wind projects on federal land. Environmental groups cheered the decision, heralding it as evidence that the BLM would be spending even more time on its already lengthy deliberative process.