Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney on Thursday outlined a plan that he says could achieve North American energy independence by the year 2020 by opening new areas for offshore oil drilling, and especially by empowering the states to lease federal lands within their own borders for oil, coal and natural gas development.
It's this restoration of local control to the states that should resonate most with Western voters, who live in states such as Nevada in which Washington controls the vast majority of property.
Under Mr. Romney's plan, federal environmental statutes and regulations would be removed or loosened to green-light more coal, oil and gas production, while he vows his administration would endeavor to reach agreements for additional energy production with Canada and Mexico, including construction of the Keystone XL Pipeline.
Mr. Romney also says he would spend more broadly on research for new energy technologies.
The Romney campaign estimates the plan would have an economic impact of $500 billion and result in 3 million new jobs, including more than a million in the manufacturing sector. The campaign projects more than $1 trillion in added revenue for federal, state and local governments, though it fails to specify over what period. It also promises lower energy prices for middle-class families.
Most importantly, the Romney plan for federal lands represents a sweeping change, in which the states would oversee the development and production of all forms of energy within their borders, with "maximum flexibility to ascertain what is most appropriate."
It's a winner. It's also the kind of practical, large-scale policy issue on which voters would rather see the candidates focus this fall's debate.