The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission voted Thursday to approve a fresh certificate for the already operating Spire STL Pipeline. The embattled pipeline had been in operation with a temporary certificate for more than a year after FERC’s 2018 authorization was vacated and remanded in August 2021. Temporary certificates of operation, under federal law, usually only last 90 days.
According to Reuters, FERC Chair Richard Glick said he “reluctantly” supported issuing a new permanent certificate after he faulted previous Republican leadership or approving the line’s construction and operation as it was being litigated. Glick said to the AP,“there is a need for this project—now.”
Glick also told the AP on Thursday that the new certificate gives the commission “a lot of different opportunities and actions it can take” if Spire doesn’t restore the land to the condition it was before. The Environmental Defense Fund, which filed the lawsuit that led to the ruling last year, said Thursday it intends to file a request for rehearing with the commission. It had pushed FERC to hold a public review process on the need for the pipeline.
Illinois Senator Tammy Duckworth wasn’t happy with the quick turnaround on the hearing. Duckworth’s Office filed an official letter with FERC on December 13th saying that the FERC staff had filed incomplete reports with the commission on December 6th about site visits that Duckworth, the Illinois EPA, the Illinois Department of Agriculture, members of FERC, and the landowners attended along the pipeline’s easement. The site visits were meant to present evidence to all of the agencies how Spire had not followed through on restoring the land to an appropriate state. Duckworth’s letter accused the incomplete reporting by FERC of allowing Spire to continue its regulatory and restoration along the pipeline’s easement. Duckworth also called the Thursday hearing to rule on the pipeline’s certificate “a surprise” because Duckworth’s staff had presented new information about “ongoing and unresolved compliance issues” about Spire to the Commission on the week of December 5th. Duckworth said in the letter: “FERC [is] not granted congressionally delegated authority to allow companies off the hook at the expense of landowners.”
Duckworth said in a Zoom call with WLDS News on Wednesday that she is making environmental issues like damage to the environment, clean drinking water, and better public infrastructure a priority during her next term in office. Duckworth said in her letter last week she was not in favor of granting Spire a new certificate.
Landowners who remain frustrated with the lack of movement by FERC to force Spire to fix environmental problems and be in compliance with the Illinois Department of Agriculture’s Agricultural Impact Mitigation Agreement [AIMA] filed a petition to show cause with FERC on Wednesday asking the company to show why it has failed to comply with the agreement. According to FERC document filings, Spire has continually said that the landowners have not negotiated in good faith and have not allowed Spire representatives on their land to fix environmental problems.
Jersey County landowner Jacob Gettings and three other landowners said in an episode of What’s on Your Mind last month that’s simply not true. Gettings says he has reluctantly let Spire representatives back onto his ground multiple times: “I reluctantly let them on after I saw the job they did on my neighbors when they went in and did this second episode of renovation. I was pretty reluctant to them come, but I did; and my land is in worse shape now than it was.”
In the rule to show cause filing, the landowners have asked Spire to be referred to the federal Office of Enforcement for a potential assessment of fines or order a hearing on the record of evidence about why they’ve been non compliant in fixing the environmental problems.
Scott Smith, president of the Spire STL Pipeline, told the AP on Thursday that he was pleased by FERC’s ruling on the certificate: “We had always believed, once FERC was able to conduct a comprehensive review of the record evidence, that FERC would ultimately find a critical need to keep this important infrastructure in service.”
The Environmental Defense Fund said FERC once again oversaw a flawed review process at the Thursday hearing by shutting out affected landowners and Spire ratepayers from commenting or offering evidence about Spire’s most recent claims.