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Spire files for rehearing to preserve STL Pipeline 

  

Spire Missouri is pleading for a rehearing with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, seeking to continue operating the Spire STL Pipeline as utilities prepare for the encroaching winter months. 

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) granted the project a certificate of convenience and necessity (CCN) in 2018, giving the green light for the construction and operation of the 65-mile interstate pipeline. Though the pipeline began providing service the following year, three judges with the federal appellate court vacated the approval last month and remanded the issue back to FERC.

Spire and the pipeline applied for a rehearing before the court Thursday, warning that changes to its supply system and operations could not be reversed and the company lacked the resources to replace the supply to the St. Louis area if the pipeline were to be shut down.  

“Because of these changes, if the STL Pipeline is shut down, Spire Missouri will not have sufficient natural gas supply to meet the demands of the St. Louis region during the upcoming winter season and faces the prospect of major losses in natural gas service during cold weather events,” Spire Missouri President Scott Carter said. “Spire Missouri will continue to pursue all legal and regulatory avenues to do what’s right for our customers and ensure access to reliable, affordable, and safe delivery of energy for eastern Missouri and to the families and businesses we serve.”

Carter pointed to the cold snap that struck the midwest in February, leading to outages and supply chain issues in numerous states and driving up customer costs. With the pipeline in place, Carter said the financial impact on customers in the eastern part of the state was about 10 percent lower compared to the western portion of Spire’s service area.

If taken offline, the project would leave 175,000-400,000 customers in the region without service, with a gap lasting up to 100 days before another source is connected, Spire said. 

Spire filed for an emergency certificate last week to keep the pipeline in operation while FERC decides its fate, a request backed by Missouri’s Public Service Commission. A spokesman for Spire said FERC had yet to take action on the request, noting the latest application was an attempt to examine a legal option while continuing to pursue regulatory approval. 

The issue was remanded after a lawsuit was filed in 2019 on behalf of the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) which argued the commission failed to prove the pipeline’s benefits would outweigh any adverse effects before granting its approval. Spire opposed the argument, pointing to the commission’s 18-month consideration before signing off on the project.

EDF responded to the pipeline’s FERC brief Thursday, alleging Spire took other assets offline and increased its reliance on the pipeline after the commission’s initial approval.

“The D.C. Circuit Court’s decision to vacate FERC’s unlawful approval of the Spire STL pipeline was firmly supported by precedent and appropriate in light of the serious deficiencies in FERC’s orders,” said Natalie Karas, senior director and lead counsel for energy markets and utility regulation at EDF. “FERC must carefully evaluate Spire’s extraordinary request and protect ratepayers, landowners, and local communities impacted by the unlawful pipeline. Left unchecked, Spire stands to profit from a problem of its own making.”

FERC is now chaired by Richard Glick, who voted against the project’s approval in 2018. Glick presented a similar argument to EDF’s at the time, calling the project an “effort to enrich Spire’s corporate parent rather than a needed piece of energy infrastructure.”

This report has been updated with Karas’s statement.