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Keller briefs Chamber at legislative breakfast

Energy independence, hyper-inflation, workforce development, the levee and the Williamsport Regional Airport’s continued search for a commercial carrier so it can reopen.

These were among the hot-button local topics covered Tuesday by U.S. Rep. Fred Keller, R-Kreamer, during his visit with members of the Williamsport-Lycoming Chamber of Commerce at the chamber legislative breakfast at the Williamsport Country Club.

Offering a blistering critique of President Joe Biden administration on most issues, Keller zeroed in on the national energy policy, discussing how the state’s abundance of oil and natural gas must be unleashed to reverse a sliding scale in terms of the nation’s bounce back after the COVID pandemic.

Paying apt attention to his words were Lycoming County Commissioners Scott Metzger and Tony Mussare, along with state Rep. Joe Hamm, R-Hepburn Township.

West Texas trip

Keller discussed his recent tour with the Western Congressional Caucus of various oil and natural gas drilling sites in the Permian Basin of West Texas, comparing producers’ efforts there to Pennsylvania’s once dominant Marcellus Shale industry.

“You know on any given day Pennsylvania’s 12th Congressional District (15 counties) produces up to 10 percent of the nation’s dry natural gas,” he said.

Unleashing American energy, lower energy prices, curbing inflation, and building a stronger workforce were other points he discussed.

American energy is the key to tackling inflation but when the White House discusses leases the problem is these landowners need permits and the industry is overregulated.

Overregulation is not how “you operate your business,” he said.

“We must rebuild America’s energy dominance by lifting the federal freeze on new oil and gas projects, expediting the approval of pipelines, and establishing a regulatory environment where domestic producers can thrive,” he said.

“Nothing in America can be produced without energy, and it should — and must be — American energy,” Keller recently also stated in an op-ed piece.

He told the chamber members how the tour provided insight from producers about some of the cutting edge solutions they’re implementing to reduce carbon emissions and get American energy to market more cleanly and efficiently.

He visited with officials from Glenn O. Hawbaker on a table in the room, discussing the high cost of diesel fuel and energy policy that is hurting the company’s bottom line.

Education and workforce

development

Keller pointed out the importance of the Strengthening Knowledge, Improving Learning, and Livelihoods (SKILLS) Act. This legislation connects individuals who experienced lay-offs during the pandemic to career opportunities in high-demand fields such as long-term care, transportation, energy, and other essential industries with worker shortages.

Likewise, Keller discussed the Connecting Higher Opportunities In College Education (CHOICE) Act. This bill helps more students in shorter-term (150 clock hours of instruction over an eight week period or more) occupational programs including vocational skills-based, on-the-job, and other workforce readiness options.

Keller said the federal government is spending at a pace that would result in a budget deficit of $45 trillion in 2032.

“You look at what the government is starting to have to pay for money and it’s really going to be a problem unless we bring this spending down,” he said.

A new U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics report this month revealed that inflation jumped 8.5 percent in the past year, the fastest year-over-year rate since 1981. Meanwhile, buying power has rapidly declined as Americans will have to earn $5,000 more this year to simply keep up with what they could afford last year.

Levee, airport and workforce development

Locally, Keller has been involved in the recertification of the flood levee in Greater Williamsport, efforts to attract a commercial carrier to the Williamsport Regional Airport and passing bills that are meant to provide educational benefits and workforce training opportunities.

The county and the City of Williamsport, along with the chamber and others remain strong partners in the costly effort to re-certify the levee built in 1955 and engineered before that and protecting an estimated $4 billion to $5 billion in real estate assets in Greater Williamsport from devastating floods and residents and industries paying for costly flood insurance.

The chamber contributed $500,000 toward the levee recertification process because 80 percent of the commerce in the county is protected by the levee system, according to Jason Fink, chamber CEO.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is planning to do a risk assessment as municipalities also weigh their use of nearly $50 million in American Rescue Plan funds, portions of which can be used toward correcting deficiencies and making long-term repairs necessary for the accreditation and certification of the levee.

Recent return estimates for replacement of certain relief wells on the levee system that originally were at $2 million have been placed at $6.7 million.

“Williamsport and South Williamsport (Old Lycoming and Loyalsock townships) can’t do it alone,” Mussare said.

Keller lauded the local contribution of dollars toward the recertification of the levee.

And, over the next eight months that he will remain in the office, Keller promised to continue to work on the same goal as the Williamsport Municipal Airport Authority – to find a commercial airliner to serve the airport and region.

The airport remains closed to any commercial airline service.

Supply chain issues

For vehicle dealerships the chip making, much of it done overseas such as in Taiwan, is a problem.

Keller said one possible solution would be tax credits offered to businesses to manufacture products in America.

That is similar to what happened with the developing cracker plant in Beaver County, he said.

The plant will take oil and gas and break it into smaller molecules to create ethylene, which is used in plastics manufacturing – thus, the name cracker.

Ukraine-Russia

“We did pass a supplemental,” he said, referring to the Ukraine Supplemental Appropriations Act to get assistance and materials to the Ukrainians so they can defend themselves against attacks from the Russian military.

However, the package had additions such as COVID relief and some immigration items in the legislation, he said.

Keller, who started out as a businessman, told the business-laden audience – You are who makes it happen,” visiting with each member personally table-to-table.

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