A federal commission has approved a temporary license for Spire Missouri's St. Louis pipeline, ending the apparent risk to thousands of homes and businesses facing cold winter months ahead.
While Spire celebrated the ruling in an email to customers Friday night, it also took the opportunity to position itself for the fight ahead.
In a message addressed to "valued customers" on December 3, Spire Missouri president Scott Carter wrote that the decision from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) was "good news," but that the company would now "turn our focus to the long-term certificate for the Pipeline."
"So, with gratitude for the good news at hand, we’re focusing our energy on advocating for a new, permanent operating certificate for the Pipeline," Carter wrote.
The fate of the pipeline is tied up in a legal and regulatory battle, one that's entangled the region's energy supply with Spire's decision to build the $280 million pipeline in 2019
. In 2018, FERC approved its construction, but the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit ruled in the summer of 2021 that the commission had ignored "plausible evidence of self-dealing" and failed to actually evaluate whether the Spire's desired pipeline would improve service or lower rates.
The original approval was struck down by the appeals court, triggering an ongoing legal battle and a series of temporary licenses which FERC issued to keep the pipeline moving gas to St. Louis. On November 4, Spire emailed its customers warning that unless it was issued yet another temporary license by December 13, the pipeline would shut down.
The email triggered panic and a round of criticism at a St. Louis County meeting days later, as members grilled a Spire project manager over the company's decision to alarm thousands when it appeared, based on the company's own previous statements, that there was no real risk of FERC allowing a pipeline shutdown
. Councilwoman Lisa Clancy, D-5th District told the Spire executive, "This feels a little bit like a manufactured catastrophe designed to solve some public relations issues you and your company are having."
However, Spire has maintained that the "worst case scenarios" of a winter outage would be devastating. In FERC's ruling to grant Spire's pipeline a temporary license, the commission noted, "Spire Missouri estimates that without the Spire STL Pipeline its customers would lose service for up to eight days," and that in the wake of "a mass gas outage caused by curtailments during a peak day" it could take up to 100 days to
reestablish service to all its 400,000 customers.
While the commission did not directly address the pipeline's long-term fate, the ruling notably addressed how "commenters argue that the present situation is of Spire Missouri’s own making and not an emergency," though adding: "We do not, at this time, take a position on who is responsible for the current situation."
The ruling continued: "It is sufficient for these purposes to determine that an emergency exists that requires granting a temporary certificate to allow maintenance of service, particularly during the winter heating season."
Spire may still have more to answer for. The commission's ruling also noted, "We are mindful of the D.C. Circuit’s concerns regarding the potential that Spire engaged in self dealing and the Commission’s failure to seriously examine those concerns."
For Spire, those concerns will follow it through the winter. The company is fighting in court to defend the construction of the pipeline appealing the ruling that struck down FERC's original approval. Spire is seeking to bring the case before the U.S. Supreme Court.
Follow Danny Wicentowski on Twitter at @D_Towski. E-mail the author at [email protected]
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