Spire STL Pipeline and stakeholders across its Missouri territory are continuing their push for federal regulators to approve temporary operations of the facility while the project assesses its path forward following a potentially detrimental court ruling.
The pipeline has been in service since 2019, but in June, a federal court of appeals vacated the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission order that allowed the project to move forward, finding the commission did not sufficiently examine evidence of self-dealing and project need. Spire in July requested FERC grant it a temporary certificate of public convenience and necessity while the company sorts out what the court ruling will mean for the pipeline. FERC responded on Friday requesting more information from the company, including on the alleged reliability impacts of closing the pipeline.
- Missouri regulators, the governor, the attorney general and various labor and business groups have echoed Spire's call for a temporary certificate in comments filed with FERC over the past month. But environmental groups, including the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) which brought the pipeline company to court in the first place, say the proposal for temporary certification has "serious deficiencies."
The Spire case has the potential to mark a significant shift in how FERC views the need for new gas infrastructure, according to some environmentalists. In its ruling vacating FERC's 2018 approval of the pipeline, the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals found that FERC ignored "plausible evidence of self-dealing" in its assessment of the project.
For the pipeline to continue operating, it will need to secure a temporary certificate of public convenience and necessity from FERC, something the company says is necessary to maintain reliable service to the project's 650,000 customers.
FERC, in its response to the request, asked the company to provide more detail on whether the company could meet service requirements without the pipeline, and to back up more thoroughly its claims that the pipeline provided essential reliability services during the February cold snap that led to widespread outages across the Midwest and Texas. Spire, in its comments, had claimed that not allowing the pipeline to remain in service could place "lives at risk."
In comments supporting the company's bid, Missouri officials, businesses and labor groups agreed that shutting down the pipeline could harm reliability of the local grid.
"It is critical that the STL Pipeline be able to continue operations until a long-term, regional solution is established for the citizens and businesses in the St. Louis region," said Gov. Michael Parson, R, in a comment filed with FERC. "This is particularly important in avoiding gas shortages in the months ahead and throughout this upcoming winter season within the St. Louis area."
But EDF, in comments filed Thursday, argued the company's application "is fraught with inaccuracies, lacking in key information, and should be scrutinized carefully by the Commission and rejected in part."
Any emergency that may exist if the pipeline is shut down is a problem of Spire's "own making," given the pipeline was put into operation in the midst of legal challenges, according to EDF, and therefore the company should not be able to reap any financial benefits if the pipeline does secure temporary authorization.
Before the pipeline was placed into service, the region had adequate gas capacity, EDF argued, but the company took other assets out of service once the pipeline was approved by FERC, leaving the region more reliant on the pipeline. EDF urged Spire to disclose why those facilities were taken offline and whether they can be brought back into service.
"FERC must carefully evaluate Spire's extraordinary request and protect ratepayers, landowners, and local communities impacted by the unlawful pipeline," said Natalie Karas, senior director and lead counsel of energy markets & utility regulation at EDF in a statement. "Left unchecked, Spire stands to profit from a problem of its own making."