WYSOX - Natural gas exports from the United States could help to further the United States' foreign policy objectives in Europe, U.S. Rep. Tom Marino said in remarks that he delivered on Saturday at Claverack Rural Electric's annual meeting in Wysox.

Marino, who represents Pennsylvania's 10th Congressional District, said he is a member of the NATO Parliamentary Alliance, which has representatives from over 20 countries.

"They (the members of the NATO Parliamentary Alliance) know about the 10th District," because of its energy reserves, he said. The NATO Parliamentary Alliance is also aware of coal and oil reserves in the region, he said.

And he said local energy reserves could one day be important to Europe.

With the right leadership in the United States, the United States "could be energy independent in five to 10 years," Marino said.

Being energy independent would create many jobs in the United States, he said. It would also allow the United States to provide energy at a relatively low cost to its citizens and businesses, and, after it met that goal, the United States would be able to export energy resources, such as natural gas, abroad, he said.

U.S. exports of natural gas to Europe, for example, would undermine Russian President Vladimir Putin's ability to threaten European countries with a shutoff of Russian natural gas, he said.

State Rep. Tina Pickett said that, while people are regularly bombarded with bad news on TV and in their newspapers, there are two pieces of good news in Pennsylvania.

One is that Pennsylvania's unemployment rate, which stood at a "painful" 8.2 percent in January 2011, is now 5.6 percent.

That's "a major improvement," she said.

Bradford County's unemployment rate is even lower, at 5 percent, she said.

State spending on education is also "going in the right direction," hitting $10.5 billion in the 2014-15 state budget, which is the highest it's ever been, she said.

She said that she is still working to get House Bill 1684 passed, which would guarantee a minimum royalty payment of 12.5 percent to landowners and which would prevent post-production costs from reducing the royalty payment below 12.5 percent. She said the opposition to the bill in the Legislature was stronger than had been anticipated.

Steven Sliwinski, chairman of the Claverack's board of directors, said Claverack has never been in better financial shape.

He said Claverack's ongoing $3 million renovation and addition to its headquarters in Standing Stone Township will be completed "without any impact" on the rates that Claverack charges.

Bobbi Kilmer, president and CEO of Claverack, said that a training room in the new addition will be available for community groups to use for meetings.

Claverack officials said Claverack's rates are stable.

The conventional wisdom has been that a rural electric cooperative will have rates that are higher than an investor-owned company, such as Penelec, because a cooperative serves a sparsely populated area where there are fewer people to pay for the cost of operating a utility, Kilmer said.

However, that conventional wisdom no longer holds true for Claverack Rural Electric, she said.

Claverack's rates 'are competitive," Kilmer said. "We are doing the best we can to keep rates are low as we ... can," she said.

James Loewenstein can be reached at (570) 265-1633; or email: jloewenstein@thedailyreview.com.