Federal Power Commission v. Southern California Edison Company

PETITIONER: Federal Power Commission
RESPONDENT: Southern California Edison Company
LOCATION: Cumberland Hospital

DECIDED BY: Warren Court (1962-1965)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit

CITATION: 376 US 205 (1964)
ARGUED: Jan 14, 1964
DECIDED: Mar 02, 1964

Facts of the case


Media for Federal Power Commission v. Southern California Edison Company

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - January 14, 1964 in Federal Power Commission v. Southern California Edison Company

Earl Warren:

Number 71, Federal Power Commission, Petitioner, versus Southern California Edison Company et al.

Mr. Spritzer.

Ralph S. Spritzer:

Mr. Chief Justice, Your Honors.

The single question which is raised by the Government's petition in this case and the only question which was decided by the divided Court of Appeals below is one which relates to the jurisdiction of the Federal Power Commission over an aspect of interstate commerce.

The stream of commerce involved consists of electric energy.

Energy which is generated by the fall of the Colorado River, generated in the States of Arizona and Nevada, which is then transmitted by high-voltage transmission lines into the State of California where it is, in turn, picked up by the respondent Southern California Edison Company, and carried by it together with energy which Edison generates locally to the City of Colton, also in California.

Colton operates a municipally-owned distributing system, serving its some-18,000 or 20,000 residents.

Now, the particular transaction in this continuing movement in interstate commerce which is the focus of the controversy here is the sale of the energy by Edison to Colton.

And the precise question is whether the regulation of the rates at which that sale takes place is a matter within the jurisdiction of the Federal Commission or of the California Public Utilities Commission.

Edison and California urge the latter.

They assume for purposes of argument as did the Ninth Circuit for purposes of its decision, that out-of-state energy moves in interstate commerce to Colton.

But they read the Federal Act to permit, indeed to acquire a determination in each case as to whether the particular transaction is primarily a matter of national or of local concern.

And the Ninth Circuit accepted that test and concluded that it was primarily a matter of local concern in this case and held that the matter was therefore beyond the jurisdiction of the Federal Commission with Judge Browning dissenting from that view.


Ralph S. Spritzer:

You do not because the Ninth Circuit assumed for purposes of decision, that there was out-of-state energy reaching Colton.

Now, that issue is still available to the respondents on remand because they argued that it was not sufficiently demonstrated at the Commission hearings that out-of-state energy reached Colton.

At Record 940, you will find that the Court of Appeals accepted the Commission's finding for purposes of its decision.

Therefore, they would not conclude (Inaudible)

Ralph S. Spritzer:

They would not.

The proponents of the other view, of the view that the sales made to Colton are under the federal statute explicitly and exclusively within the federal domain, are three.

First, the City of Colton, it is a separate petitioner here.

And Colton complains that a series of rate increases were put into effect by Edison and that the charges which were thereafter made were unlawfully collected because those increases were not filed with the Federal Power Commission.

A second proponent of what I might call the federal view is the American Public Power Association which has filed a brief amicus curiae in the case and represents more than 1,200 publicly owned distribution systems in some-45 states, most of which purchased some or all of the energy which they distribute from investor-owned utilities like Edison.

Since the association is not participating in the oral argument, I will pause a moment to state though without elaboration the considerations which it says give it principle concern.

It argues that a case-by-case determination of the national interest in each sale and wholesale, of which there are literally thousands, would be well -- impossible.

And, that it would be at least many years under the Ninth Circuit's approach, before any member of the association would know the appropriate forum in which to contest the reasonableness of a particular wholesale rate or service.

It argues further that even then, constantly changing conditions within the electric system would deprive such a determination of any finality or certainty.

It argues finally, that the great technological advances in the electric industry in recent years have brought us, as indeed they have to an era where we have virtually a national grid of interconnected power pools.

And that in this environment, the determination of reasonable wholesale rates of a public utility will often require intimate knowledge of the very complex workings, contractual arrangements, and financial operations of the whole power pool of which the particular utility is by a part and this it suggests, makes national regulation of sales and wholesale in interstate commerce a practical imperative in many situations.

The third proponent of course, of the view that this is within federal jurisdiction is the Federal Power Commission.