Pennsylvania’s shale plays “are an incredible opportunity” for the job-starved state, according to incoming Lt. Gov. Jim Cawley, who declared that he and Gov. Tom Corbett “will send a message that Pennsylvania is open for business.”

The Marcellus and Utica shales “in and of themselves possess the ability to produce energy for this nation well into the next century, as well as creating thousands of jobs for Pennsylvanians,” Cawley said in a speech to the state’s Senate following his swearing-in ceremony in Harrisburg Tuesday. Cawley said jobs will be the Corbett administration’s “number one priority.”

And while he delivered no specifics about the severance tax on natural gas drilling that has been contemplated in Pennsylvania, Cawley promised a “less intrusive government that operates within its means, thus precluding any call for higher taxes.” Current spending levels in the state “are unacceptable,” he said.

Despite commitments during last year’s budget negotiations to pass a severance tax on gas drillers, Pennsylvania lawmakers balked on the issue during a lame duck session (see Shale Daily, Nov. 18, 2010). During his campaign, Corbett vowed “no new taxes” and said he opposed a severance tax on natural gas (see Shale Daily, Oct. 28, 2010). But while a natural gas tax isn’t likely, Corbett recently told the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review that he will “look at what the legislature proposes” (see Shale Daily, Jan. 5).

Recent surveys have found public support for a tax on natural gas drilling in the state to help close a projected $4 billion revenue shortfall (see Shale Daily, Jan. 18; Dec. 28, 2010), and both outgoing Gov. Ed Rendell and outgoing Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) Secretary John Hanger have said they think the new administration will pass a tax on drilling (see Shale Daily, Jan. 14).

Corbett’s inauguration speech offered no specific policy proposals. The new governor instead focused on an optimistic vision of Pennsylvania’s future.

“I see a promising future; one that breathes new life into our existing economies such as agriculture and manufacturing. I see a future that embraces innovation in emerging frontiers of energy, life sciences and biotechnology. I see a future that sets free the kind of creativity and competition that will make Pennsylvania the envy of our nation,” Corbett said.

Environmentalists opposed to Corbett’s approach to natural gas drilling regulation were among a group of protesters at the inauguration ceremonies, according to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. But the incoming Republican governor and the state’s General Assembly, which will have Republican majorities in both chambers, “can and will be good stewards of the environment and good protectors of people’s health, safety and welfare,” according to Cawley.

In the days prior to his inauguration, Corbett named Michael Krancer, a judge on the state’s Environmental Hearing Board, to helm the DEP (see Shale Daily, Jan. 13). Corbett also announced appointments to fill two other DEP positions and tapped Patrick Henderson, a state Senate aide, as the state’s first Energy Executive.

Corbett, who is from Shaler Township, near Pittsburgh in Allegheny County, PA, previously served as U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Pennsylvania and served several roles in the administration of Gov. Tom Ridge, including attorney general, to which he was reelected in 2008.

Cawley, a former Bucks County commissioner, previously served as chief of staff to Pennsylvania state Sen. Tommy Tomlinson.