PITTSTON TWP. - U.S. Sen. Bob Casey met Tuesday with officials who work in the natural gas industry, listened to their views on the industry's progress and highlighted bills he's pushing to help grow it.

"The scope of the energy opportunity we have has never been greater," Casey said during a noon press conference after the meeting in the O'Hara Industrial Park at Linde Corp., a construction company active in the natural gas fields.

Almost a month ago, Casey introduced a bill that would create a pool of federal money that states could compete for to develop plans to encourage use of natural gas as a fuel and public and private spending on natural gas-powered vehicles and gas stations.

Under the bill, states would be awarded federal money depending on how much other public and private money will go into a state's plan; how much the initiatives will meet needs unlikely to be met by the private sector; and how much money each state is putting up to encourage natural gas-powered transportation and gas stations.

"You have the federal government helping ... as a partner, but not dictating, allowing states to come up with their own strategy," Casey said.

Under another Casey bill, introduced in February, businesses and municipalities could get rebates of 30 percent of their spending on natural-gas vehicles up to $15,000. The bill would also extend, through 2016, the 50-cents-a-gallon alternative fuel tax credit and a tax credit of 30 percent of the cost up to $30,000 for installing commercial refueling stations.

William Kelley, owner and president of BX3 and Taylor Rental in Susquehanna and Wyoming Counties, which supply equipment for the industry, said the country needs to start switching to more natural gas-powered vehicles, which could end up cheaper to run than gasoline-powered cars, and benefit the region.

"We've got it right here. It's here. It's right under our feet ... We're very blessed with what's going on up there," Kelley said, referring to the natural gas industry's development in the northern tier.

Contact the writer: bkrawczeniuk@timesshamrock.com