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Everybody's Column / Letters from our readers

National Fuel has no control over natural gas market prices

An Aug. 30 letter questions why natural gas prices are estimated to be higher in coming months than in past years. Even before the devastation of Hurricane Katrina, industry experts warned that the years-long precarious balance between supplies of demand for natural gas and other energies would lead to higher natural gas prices this winter.

National Fuel, the utility that serves customers in Western New York, has no control over the market price of the natural gas that we deliver. Nor do we make any profit on that component of a customer's bill. We work hard to ensure that we've secured adequate supplies of natural gas to meet our customers' needs at the best price available. This year, while some experts have predicted increases in heating costs in some areas by as much as 71 percent, we expect that energy costs may increase 20 to 30 percent.

In the winter months, natural gas costs account for about 75 percent of our customers' total bill. The rest of the bill, the delivery service charge, includes the utility's costs of doing business and operating and maintaining our natural gas pipeline system. The Public Service Commission regulates and approves these rates. We continually apply cost-control measures and adopt practices that make our operations more efficient.

We encourage those who are having difficulty paying their bills to contact us.

Bruce D. Heine

Vice President, National Fuel Gas

Distribution Corporation

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Health care industry buys lawmakers' loyalty

I find it extremely interesting that the health care industry gave $14 million to lawmakers for the celebrated signing of a drug-HMO backed Medicare bill. A recent News article stated that it will be an "earnings bonanza for the nation's largest health insurers." The government decided not to allow negotiating drug costs to save money.

It is estimated that the prescription drug program for seniors will generate as much as "$10 billion in revenue and $250 million in earnings for nine large insurance companies." We taxpayers are paying the bill, and we can once again thank President Bush and his allies.

Diana Butsch

West Falls

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Katrina investigation must address race, class

Anatole France once said that "the law, in its majestic equality, forbids rich and poor alike to sleep under bridges, beg in the streets or steal bread." I am reminded of this quote every time I hear someone say that the people suffering such misery should have left New Orleans when they were told to, or when people, including our president, bristle at the notion that race and class are factors in this tragedy.

While the more affluent of New Orleans certainly could have sought shelter at the Superdome, it is clear that the people in that horrific place were overwhelmingly black and poor. This isn't about blame and it isn't about comparing misery; every victim of that storm has suffered in unimaginable ways. However, if there is to be an investigation to help avoid the same mistakes when disaster strikes, race, class, poverty and disability must be addressed as well.

Barbra Kavanaugh

Buffalo

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Box Avenue neighbors show cooperative spirit

A property on Box Avenue was cited for numerous violations some time ago, and the owner, who could not afford the necessary repairs, agreed to have the house demolished. Until the demolition could be completed, the court issued an "order to vacate" to protect the public from dangerous conditions inside.

On Sept. 13, residents of Box Avenue came into Buffalo Housing Court, but not to complain or even inquire as to why the house was still standing. Instead, after waiting for me to complete my morning calendar, they asked me to clarify whether they could go onto the property to clean debris and cut grass at their own expense.

This type of community concern and cooperation, which has become common in our city, should be recognized and rewarded. The neighborhoods that have improved the most are those where the residents have come together, on a volunteer basis, to work with the courts, the police and other government departments to address the issues that affect their quality of life. Their efforts have been essential in reaching many of our collective goals.

Henry Nowak

Buffalo Housing Court Judge

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Animals pay a hefty fee to entertain humans

The Ringling Bros. Circus is being promoted as a family-oriented entertainment. However, there is another, darker, side to the "Big Top." Many of the circus elephants were captured in the wild. Baby elephants are taken away from their mothers while still nursing and subjected to intense training which uses whips, clubs, electric prods, and bullhooks. Tigers love to swim, and they need vast areas of land to roam and to hunt. These basic needs are taken away from them in a circus. They are naturally afraid of fire yet forced to jump through hoops of fire.

Tigers pacing, elephants swaying back and forth, primates hitting their heads against the bars of their cages are all indications of deep psychological stress because these animals are not allowed to live their lives as they were intended to be lived; in the wild. In addition, there are now reports that elephants are testing positive for tuberculosis, a disease highly communicable to humans.

Fortunately, circuses that do not feature performing animals, such as the Cirque du Soleil, are becoming extremely popular and demonstrate that it is not necessary to force wild animals to act in ways unnatural to them. Before purchasing a ticket, consider the costs to the animals forced to perform for our entertainment.

Maureen Schiener

Amherst

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