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    Spire reacts to criticism of winter heating alert involving of STL Pipeline

    January 25, 2022 - The St. Louis Record



      Although the Spire STL gas pipeline was granted an extension on Dec. 3, 2021 to continue providing heat to St. Louis residents, the way the utility went about informing residents caused a stir, according to a local advocate.

      “There was really a great deal of panic,” said Dawn Chapman, who serves on the St. Louis County Commission on Disabilities. “I had to jump in quick and get to the bottom of it. I was unaware that there was even a pipeline issue up until that point. So, it really woke up a lot of people.”

      Spire began sending emails to customers on Nov. 3, 2021 alerting some residents serviced by the utility that without a federal extension granted before Dec. 13, users could potentially go without heat and face a very cold winter.

      “When those letters started coming out, we were slammed with emails from elderly residents and people who live around here asking what was going on,” Chapman told the St. Louis Record. “They were scared to death. Some of these people deal with mobility issues in their home and it's not safe for them to have space heaters if they're in a wheelchair.”

      Service by the STL Spire Pipeline had been in limbo since October when the U.S. Supreme Court rejected its request to stay a District of Columbia Court of Appeal ruling that determined the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) did not thoroughly evaluate the pipeline before approving it in 2018.

      “I think it was a very bad move for Spire because they probably have more opposition now than they've ever had just because of the way they handled the letter and how underhanded it was," said Chapman, co-founder of Just Moms STL, a group of mothers of who advocate for environmental causes. “That was a real fear mongering attempt. No doubt about it. There was a much better way they could have handled that than trying to do a mass panic in the middle of a pandemic and at the beginning of the deep winter season.”

      The scare caused many residents to call their state and federal representatives, according to Chapman, who is suspicious of Spire’s motives because she did not receive a letter.

      “I am a Spire customer,” she said. “It’s very strange who was targeted and how that came about. We had an awful lot of elderly individuals over 60 years old calling us about the letter."

      As previously reported, the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) filed a lawsuit against FERC, Spire, and the pipeline after a certificate of convenience and necessity (CCN) had been issued.

      “I think that there was always going to be an extension,” she added. “I think Spire’s letter was an attempt to get people to be pro-pipeline and the truth is that I didn't see very much opposition. When the residents contacted members of Congress, it caught everyone off guard. Even the people who are not fans of pipelines were not against the extension.”

      However, Spire's director of integrated corporate communications, Jason Merrill, said that informing residents as soon as possible that their service may be cut off was a priority.

      "Telling people on December 13th would not have been right," Merrill told the St. Louis Record. "We believe the right thing to do is keep customers informed."

      On Nov. 18, 2021, FERC signaled it intended to act on the pipeline, according to Merrill.

      "Prior to that, there were no indications, guarantees or assurances about taking action on the pipeline, he said. "By early November, we had begun entering winter heating season and we felt there was a responsibility to tell customers their service could be impacted."

      Merrill added that there was no targeting involved in the emails that were circulated.

      "We sent the letter to customers that we had emails for," he said. "It was an update on the STL pipeline situation. Our responsibility is to be transparent with customers and keep them informed about events or situations that could impact their service."

      The extension, however, isn't indefinite. It only allows the pipeline to continue to operate while FERC reviews the pipeline's long term approval on remand based on a June 22, 2021 court ruling.

      "FERC, under the Natural Gas Act, is the government agency that oversees interstate pipelines and so they are going back and reviewing everything to make a decision on the future of the pipeline. There is no timeframe on that."

      The views expressed in content distributed by Newstex and its re-distributors (collectively, "Newstex Authoritative Content") are solely those of the respective author(s) and not necessarily the views of Newstex et al. It is provided as general information only on an "AS IS" basis, without warranties and conferring no rights, which should not be relied upon as professional advice. Newstex et al. make no claims, promises or guarantees regarding its accuracy or completeness, nor as to the quality of the opinions and commentary contained therein.


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