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& & Natural gas price hike & & & &

SPOKANE -- Just as it gets cold, the price of natural gas may go up. Avista Corporation has approached the state utility commissions in Washington and Idaho, asking for a rate increase of 29 percent in both states. If approved, the average natural gas customer will pay an extra $15 per month. Commercial rates may go up between 32 and 46 percent.

"This is a purchase gas cost adjustment (PGA) reflecting only the cost of the commodity; it doesn't affect the bottom line at Avista," says Catherine Parochetti, Avista spokesperson. "Natural gas prices have gone up significantly for all natural gas companies in Washington."

The company does not mark up or make additional profits from PGA filings. But if approved, the rate hikes will generate $47 million more in revenue.

Approval is subject to public review, and a final decision may be made by the two states' utility commissions, as early as Jan. 11.

"Even with the proposed increase, we are still the least expensive of all the other gas companies in Washington," says Parochetti. "Avista doesn't get any of this money at all. On your bill, 28 percent of every dollar goes to Avista, the rest goes to pipelines and transport and the purchase of the gas. That's what the increase will be used for."

& & The lake in court & & & &

COEUR D'ALENE -- The United States Supreme Court is going to rule in the ongoing dispute between the Coeur d'Alene Tribe and the state of Idaho over who owns Lake Coeur d'Alene. The area in question is a portion of the southern one-third of the lake and the St. Joe River.

It's the Justice Department's lawsuit, but the tribe has joined it, says Bob Bostwick, press secretary for the Coeur d'Alene Tribe. "We actually pushed to have the argument involving the entire lake, not just the one-third in question."

The United States first challenged the state's lake ownership in a lawsuit in 1994. According to a statement released by the Attorney General's office, Federal District Court in Boise then ruled to set aside state ownership in 1998.

In March, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals allowed that decision to stand, and the state then appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court.

"Idaho believes that the Ninth Circuit's analysis and decision misapplied several important U.S. Supreme Court decisions," said Attorney General Al Lance in a written statement. That's why the state is appealing.

Lance also said in his statement that the outcome of the case hinges on whether Congress originally intended to include submerged lands as part of the Coeur d'Alene Reservation.

The tribe maintains it has always owned the portion of the lake in question, because it owned it before Idaho obtained statehood.

"Our issue with the lake is appropriate stewardship. In years past, the state has allowed the lake to be a toilet for mine waste and all the deadly pollutants included in it," says Bostwick. "The lake, being the most important natural resource in the area, needs to be looked after better."

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