UPDATES: This story has been updated to make clear that Spire was seeking a stay and can still appeal.
Chief Justice John Roberts has rejected a Supreme Court stay request from the St. Louis-based natural gas company Spire Inc. to allow it to keep operating a pipeline through Illinois and Missouri.
Roberts did not comment Friday in refusing to temporarily pause a lower court order affecting the operation of the Spire STL Pipeline. The company could be forced to stop operating the pipeline on Dec. 13 unless the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission extends an emergency order granted in September.
Scott Smith, president of Spire STL Pipeline, said in a statement that the company was disappointed in the decision.
“Shutting down the Pipeline could potentially lead to widespread, prolonged, and life-threatening natural-gas service disruptions for residents and businesses in the greater St. Louis region,” Smith said. “Spire STL Pipeline will continue to fully cooperate with the FERC and other stakeholders to keep this critical infrastructure in service to ensure continued access to reliable, affordable energy for homes and businesses in the greater St. Louis region.”
Smith said Spire “retains the ability to return to the Supreme Court for emergency relief if new developments further threaten its ability to serve its customers.”
The environmental group opposing Spire has said the company’s concerns are overblown because FERC is likely to allow the pipeline to continue to operate through the winter.
The pipeline runs for 65 miles (105 kilometers), from Scott County, Illinois, to near St. Louis, where it connects with a national network. FERC granted approval in 2018.
Spire has called it vital for providing “reliable and critical energy access to 650,000 homes and businesses throughout the St. Louis region.” But the Environmental Defense Fund contended in a lawsuit that the pipeline harms land in its path, and that taxpayers will foot the bill for decades to come.
In June, a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit ruled that FERC “failed to adequately balance public benefits and adverse impacts” in approving the pipeline. The panel also wrote that evidence showed the pipeline “is not being built to serve increasing load demand and that there is no indication the new pipeline will lead to cost savings.”
The ruling vacated approval of the pipeline, prompting FERC’s 90-day order allowing its continued operation.
Roberts handles emergency appeals to the Supreme Court in cases arising in the federal courts in Washington, D.C.