The country is on the verge of becoming independent of Middle Eastern oil because of newfound natural gas deposits and the hydraulic fracturing process used to collect it, according to U.S. Sen. Bob Casey, D-Scranton, who made a brief stop in the city Tuesday for an editorial board meeting with the Sun-Gazette.
Casey, who has held office in Congress since 2007, said that natural gas drilling will help America become energy independent in the next several decades.
"That's a pretty strong statement that we probably couldn't have even made five years ago," he said. "Natural gas is the main reason we can say that."
U.S. Sen. Bob Casey, D-Scranton, talks to the editorial board at the Williamsport Sun-Gazette on Tuesday.
Casey said he is not opposed to natural gas drilling, especially when it's done in a balanced manner. He said the number of jobs the industry creates - especially in his home state - and the energy that is produced are crucial.
"We are reaching kind of a center of this. People not only have an understanding, but are starting to come together around the fact that you can have that balance between and among job creation and economic development, good environmental policy adherence to the rules and ... probably most obvious, the energy benefit," he said.
Casey, along with Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., introduced legislation in the Senate in 2011 that would require gas companies to reveal chemical components used in hydraulic fracturing, or fracking. Congress did not take action on the bill, however a House version still exists and is under consideration.
The No. 1 issue facing the country still is the economy, according to Casey. He said recent reports of increased consumer confidence, home sales and lower unemployment figures are heartening, but not good enough.
"There's some consistently good news on the economy," he said. "But frankly, not enough. We're still not creating jobs nationally at the 200,000 (a month) or more mark."
Casey said he has introduced job creation tax credit legislation on new hires and wages to stimulate the economy.
He also introduced a proposal this year that would provide rebates for the purchase of natural gas buses and extend tax credits for natural gas filling stations and vehicle fuel.
If approved, Casey said the measure would be a "tremendous boost to the economy."
The senator said he continues to be a supporter of tighter gun controls, including mandatory federal background checks, limited-capacity magazines and banning of certain assault weapons.
"That's an issue where I've had a substantial change of heart," he said. "It all started with Newtown."
Casey said background checks are a common- sense approach that potentially could stop a future mass shooting.
Although those proposals didn't pass earlier this year, Casey said there could be another vote before the end of the year on background checks.
Casey was quick to point out that he was one of 46 senators to vote for limited magazine capacities and one of 40 to vote for the ban of certain assault weapons.
"I couldn't justify voting down provisions that I thought would be reasonable," he said.
He said those who carry a firearm for personal defense don't need 30 or more cartridges.
"I think the limitation to 10 bullets is a reasonable way to prevent (massacres). Those children were massacred beyond description (in Newtown, Conn.). If he had more time, he had the capacity to kill a few more kids," he said. "I just think we have to try to take every step we can to prevent another massacre like that, and do it within the confines or the limitations of the Second Amendment."
Casey admitted that the public has a limited understanding of Obamacare, the federally-mandated health care legislation of which provisions go into effect next year.
He said it will provide valuable coverage, including pre-existing conditions, children and the elderly.
He also said the legislation may not be perfect, but it is a big advancement in health care.
Casey said he is willing to make changes to the law in order to make it work, like when he voted to repeal the medical device tax.
"We're finally at a point where we're at a breakthrough on health care; I think we need to make it work," he said.