Faced with a soaring federal deficit and a slumping economy, some Capitol Hill lawmakers have hit on an idea to deal with both: They want the federal government to begin selling off some of its vast estate.

Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) and Sens. Mike Lee (R-Utah) and John McCain (R-Arizona) have introduced companion bills that would instruct the U.S. Department of Interior’s Bureau of Land Management (BLM) to sell 3.3 million acres of federal land located in ten Western states. The states where the land is located are Arizona, New Mexico, Utah, Nevada, Colorado, Montana, Oregon, Wyoming, Idaho, and Nebraska.

In a report issued in May 1997, the Clinton administration identified BLM lands that were suitable for disposal.  But in the nearly 14 years that have passed since the report was released, nothing has been done about the lands. They have been gathering dust and costing taxpayers money.

Arguing that the sale of the lands to private ownership would create jobs, raise local property tax revenues, and help reduce the federal budget deficit, Lee, McCain, Cheffetz, and their supporters are determined to move ahead.

“It’s been more than a decade since the land was deemed suitable for disposal, and there is no critical need for the federal government to hold on to it.” Sen. Lee said in a statement (Environment & Energy Daily, March 18).  Sen. McCain stressed the contribution that the sale of the land would make toward reducing the nation’s $1.4 trillion budget deficit and $14 national debt.

Under the legislation, BLM would have four years after enactment of the bill to sell the lands at “full market value” as determined by an independent appraiser.  The bill states that all net proceeds from the sale “shall be deposited into the Treasury for the reduction of the public debt.”

The 3.3 million acres identified in the Clinton era report amount to just over 5,150 square miles, or an area slightly larger than the state of Connecticut.  Given the location of  the lands the lawmakers want sold, it is quite possible that at least some of them contain deposits of valuable minerals as well as oil and natural gas.