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Spire exec defends email warning of potential gas outages

CLAYTON (AP) — St. Louis County Council members are seeking answers over a recent email that Spire Missouri sent to customers warning them of potential natural gas outages this winter that the company said could occur if a pipeline was shut down.

Council members questioned Spire’s planning manager, David Yonce, at a meeting on Tuesday at which he said about 400,000 homes in the St. Louis region could lose gas eventually if the pipeline closed. But some council members accused Spire of creating unnecessary panic.

In June, a federal appeals court panel ruled that the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission didn’t adequately demonstrate the need for the 65-mile pipeline that was approved in 2018 and runs through parts of Illinois and Missouri. Last month, Spire asked the U.S. Supreme Court to keep the pipeline operational.

Last week, Spire sent an email to its more than 600,000 customers warning of a potential gas shutoff. The email said Spire could be forced to stop operating the pipeline on Dec. 13 unless the FERC extended an emergency order.

The Environmental Defense Fund, whose lawsuit prompted the appeals court ruling, has said Spire’s warning was overblown because the FERC was likely to allow the pipeline to continue to operate through the winter.

Under council questioning on Tuesday, Yonce said Spire had a contingency plan to keep “critical-needs customers” such as nursing homes and hospitals supplied with gas through the winter.

Councilman Tim Fitch, a Republican, asked whether the email was “about putting pressure on FERC.”

Yonce responded that the email “was the prudent thing to do.”

“The risk is there, the risk is real. We do hope that FERC will issue the temporary certificate, but we do not know at this point in time if they will or when they will,” Yonce said.

Lisa Clancy, a Democrat, criticized the decision to send the email, saying it “caused a lot of fear in the community.” She said a Spire associate had assured her that the FERC was likely to approve the pipeline’s operation through the winter.

“This feels a little bit like a manufactured catastrophe,” Clancy said.

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