HARRISBURG - At a time when tapping and taxing Pennsylvania's natural-gas reserves is increasingly controversial, a top Rendell administration aide who dealt with those issues is resigning to take a job with a leading gas driller.
K. Scott Roy is stepping down as the $146,000-a-year executive deputy chief of staff to Rendell to become vice president for government relations and regulatory affairs for Range Resources Corp., a Texas-based company with a major drilling stake in Pennsylvania.
Through a Rendell spokesman, Roy declined comment for this article, except to say that he "considers it an opportunity to work for a great company that has a vision to achieve a balance between the Marcellus Shale opportunity and protecting the environment."
Roy's job switch has raised eyebrows in the environmental community, especially given Rendell's about-face five weeks ago on whether to begin taxing natural-gas drilling in the Marcellus shale formation.
"At the least, it doesn't look good," said Jan Jarrett, president and chief executive of PennFuture, a Harrisburg-based environmental group.
Running hundreds of feet below ground from New York to Virginia, the Marcellus Shale is a vein of rock containing vast reserves of natural gas estimated to be worth billions of dollars. Recent technology has made its exploration and extraction possible.
When he delivered his budget address Feb. 4, Rendell touted a so-called "extraction" tax on gas drilled in the Marcellus Shale reserve. He called it a modern-day "gold rush" and said the governor of West Virginia had assured him that such a tax "did not inhibit" that state's natural-gas boom.
That changed Aug. 31. In a move that took even some of his top aides by surprise, Rendell said at a news briefing that he was giving up his push for the tax this year.
He said he changed his mind after meeting with industry executives who convinced him that imposing the tax now would stunt the growth of drilling in the state.
"We felt we should let the industry get off to a good start, and that surpasses our need for money," Rendell said Aug. 31. He said he favored starting such a tax next year.
Gary Tuma, Rendell's press secretary, said Roy played no role in the decision to not seek an immediate tax.
Even so, environmental advocates said Roy's move from the public to the private sector raised questions. Jeff Schmidt, director of the Pennsylvania Chapter of the Sierra Club, said the move troubled him.
"There is a huge amount of money being spent to influence decision-making on these issues in Harrisburg," Schmidt said. "It may be that the governor was getting advice from someone who was looking at where they would land and not what was best public policy."
Roy was the administration's liaison to the industry and to environmental and conservation groups, people familiar with his duties said.
Range Resources has spent heavily on lobbying this year in Harrisburg, where the drilling company's interests have been affected by two controversial aspects of the state's long-running budget stalemate: the on-again, off-again proposal to tax gas extraction, and the proposed opening of tens of thousands of acres of state forest to drilling. Rendell and legislative leaders have agreed to leasing more of these lands to gas drillers as a way to help close the budget deficit.
From January through June, Range Resources spent more than $407,000 to lobby state policymakers, according to public disclosure reports.
Roy, a lawyer from Pittsburgh who lives outside Harrisburg, tendered his resignation Sept. 26 and is to start with the company at its "Marcellus Division" near Pittsburgh on Monday.
Range Resources, a publicly traded company with market value of nearly $8 billion, has about 900,000 acres under leasing rights in the southwestern and north central part of the state.
Rodney Waller, Range Resources' senior vice president, said Roy's main work will be to "build bridges" between constituent groups such as farmers, the press, lawmakers, environmentalists and state regulators.
It's a key role, Waller said in a telephone interview, at a pivotal time for the industry as it plans to expand drilling in the Marcellus Shale region.
Roy "is a man of reason who sees the issues from many directions," Waller said, "and that will be helpful for us in bringing constituencies together."
Asked if hiring Roy was designed to bring an Rendell administration insider into the company fold, Waller said, "The short answer is no."
Waller said that as a member of the administration, Roy "probably had as many disagreements as . . . agreements" with his future employers over drilling policies. He would not elaborate.
Roy, 43, made $146,328 as deputy chief of staff, a post he has held since May 2007.
Rendell's spokesman, Tuma, said Roy "has done excellent work for the administration, but the governor has no power to compel someone to remain in a job or to not accept one as long as they are abiding by the law."
Under Pennsylvania's so-called revolving-door law, Roy would be barred from lobbying the administration for one year. The law is less clear on whether he would be able to lobby regulatory agencies.
Contact staff writer Mario F. Cattabiani at 717-787-5990 or email@example.com.