National Fuel Gas & The Big Payback

That James Brown Song is playing in my head right now – The Pay Back

“Hey, got to, got to pay it back (the big payback)
Revenge.……. I’m mad (the big payback)
Got to get back, I need some get back, payback, payback (the big payback)
There it is, pay it back
Revenge, I’m mad”

We’ve all been owed money before right? There’s probably been a time when your brother or sister seems to have owed you that $40 bucks for the last few centuries. Or, maybe your cousin, friend, or even parent has owed you that $20 bucks for what seems like an eternity. This is nothing new as regular human beings living in this society we either owe, or are owed something. This owing cycle can happen with the people you love dearest in your life, but money is no reason to fall out with them.

Now have you ever been owed money and you didn’t know it? It’s not a good feeling is it? Time Warner overdrew on an automatic payment, AT&T or Sprint overcharged you last month, someone has been making purchases out of your account, National Grid over estimated on your light bill. When things like these happen it can make you feel a little violated to say the least.

“Sold me out, for chicken change (yes you did!!)
Told me that they, they had it all arranged
You handed me down, and that’s a fact
Now you're pumped, You gotta get ready For the big payback!! (the big payback!!)
That's where I am, the big payback (the big payback!!)” 

Western New York’s largest residential natural gas supplier National Fuel Gas (NFG) probably owes you some money. This is what some Erie County Legislators are trying to find out. Erie County Legislators last month introduced a resolution seeking answers from NFG. They invited NFG to be in attendance at the legislature’s Energy & Environment Committee meeting last week to see what they owe us, but no one from NFG showed up. “National Fuel gas is the sole provider for residential customers in the City of Buffalo. I am hopeful that any billing discrepancies identified as a result of this study will be promptly addressed and all customers, residential and commercial will be accurately billed in the future” says Erie County Legislator Betty Jean Grant.

“That ain’t right!”

Recently NFG went before the New York State Public Service Commission (PSC) seeking changes in the rates that they charge customers for heating their homes. The PSC is the body charged with regulating utility companies in New York State. NFG was granted a temporary rate freeze from the PSC.

The National Fuel Accountability Coalition (NFAC) is a group of community based organizations who have been working to shed light on the weatherization crisis in Buffalo and Western New York. “Buffalo has some of the oldest housing stock in the nation; a weatherized home would mean lower gas bills which is the difference between paying the heat bill, and paying the rent for many in our community. We want to work with NFG to create grass roots based solutions to this crisis” says Bob Cook a member of PUSH Buffalo (PUSH is a member of the NFAC).


During the NFG rate inquiry proceedings, information has come to light that points to the possibility of NFG making too much money from its customers. It is estimated that NFG owes more than a half a million of their customers a refund. “The fact that they have not been as good a corporate citizen as they could be has been disheartening. If they indeed owe the community a refund on top of everything else, this gives them an opportunity to be a good community member” Cooks explains.

It was first the NFAC who organized around the little known Conservation Incentive Program (CIP). This is a program that all NFG customers pay into when they pay their gas bills. It shows as a surcharge on the customer’s gas bill. Money from this program is supposed to go towards weatherization programs in NFG’s service area in New York State. The NFAC found that this was not completely happening and was able to work with the PSC to add more money from this program into low-income weatherization.

Adding another wild twist to this tale of corporate unaccountability, hundreds of Western New Yorkers have just returned from a trip to Albany (the state capital) for the largest anti-fracking demonstration New York State has ever seen. NFG has been a big proponent of getting this environmentally harmful practice going in this state. "Natural gas companies have far too often left communities hanging -- whether it's through contamination of their land or water, or in this case with National Fuel's overcharging of ratepayers. As opposed to New York State succumbing to the whims of the natural gas industry and allowing the dangerous practice of fracking for natural gas, we need a renewable energy plan that will decrease our dependency on this harmful industry," said Rita Yelda, organizer with Food & Water Watch and Western NY Drilling Defense.

Members of the Erie County Legislature have once again invited NFG to discuss the situation. The NFAC is asking for the community to join them for a big pay back. The NFAC is gathering today Thursday June 20th 2013 outside the Erie County Legislature, 92 Franklin St in downtown Buffalo NY at 1:30pm. They’re asking the community to come out and join them. 

“All we’re asking for is a seat at the table. Many hands make light work and it’s time for NFG to roll up their sleeves and play fair with the community they’re supposed to be serving… it’s payback time” says Brenda Miller an organizer with PUSH Buffalo.