Federal Power Commission v. Union Electric Company

PETITIONER: Federal Power Commission
RESPONDENT: Union Electric Company
LOCATION: Criminal District Court, Parish of New Orleans

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

CITATION: 381 US 90 (1965)
ARGUED: Mar 02, 1965
DECIDED: May 03, 1965

Facts of the case


Media for Federal Power Commission v. Union Electric Company

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - March 02, 1965 in Federal Power Commission v. Union Electric Company

Earl Warren:

Number 123, Federal Power Commission, Petitioner, versus Union Electric Company.

Mr. Spritzer.

Ralph S. Spritzer:

Mr. Chief Justice, Your Honors.

This case comes here on petition of the Federal Power Commission and presents a rather basic issue as to the scope of the Commission's licensing jurisdiction over hydroelectric projects one which calls for a construction of Section 23 (b) of the Water Power Act of 1920.

In that Section Congress used the language common to so many federal regulatory statutes affecting interstate or foreign commerce.

Our question here is whether it did so in a specialized or limiting sense or whether on the contrary the concept of affecting commerce is to be given its customary full play.

The Eighth Circuit has held as respondent Union Electric Company here urges that the word commerce in this statute is to be read but although other statute does not say so.

As if it referred solely to commerce on the river only that and nothing else.

Our view is that Congress quite purposefully in the Water Power Act exercised the full scope of its constitutional commerce powers and that it imposed a licensing requirement as well as the other regulatory incidents of the Act upon any hydroelectric project which would affect commerce in the constitutional sense.

Now I shall deal with the facts more fully in a few moments but I would like to make a few essentials clear at the outset.

What year is this statute then?

Ralph S. Spritzer:

1920 Your Honor.


Ralph S. Spritzer:

The Hydroelectric project in question is known as the Taum Sauk Project and it is located on a non-navigable stream in Missouri known as the East Fork.

The East Fork River is some 4 miles of the location of the project on the East Fork is some 4 miles above the confluence of that stream with the Black River which is a navigable river.

Now there is dispute as to whether the facts justify the conclusion that the Taum Sauk Project will significantly affect downstream navigability on the Black River.

The trial examiner and the Commission concluded that it would the Court of Appeals disagree.

There is no dispute however, no dispute on the proposition that electricity which is generated at the Taum Sauk works will serve Union Electric's coordinated three-state system of generation transmission and distribution.

The Taum Sauk Project will draw upon sources of energy and other states at certain times and at other times the Taum Sauk Project will generate hydroelectric Power which will be transmitted to other states.

William J. Brennan, Jr.:

Mr. Spritzer is this all tied in with the Interstate Committee?

Ralph S. Spritzer:

Union Electric has a three-state system in Missouri --

William J. Brennan, Jr.:

(Voice Overlap)

Ralph S. Spritzer:

-- Iowa and the Illinois.

William J. Brennan, Jr.:

But is it tied in with other --

Ralph S. Spritzer:

This record shows a three-state integrated system.

It does not show whether the system also has arrangements for interchanged with the facilities and other parts of the country.

Now the principal legal issue which the Government brought here is whether a hydroelectric project defects commerce in a statutory sense where project energy will flow in Interstate Commerce even if it be assumed that it will not affect -- the project will not affect the navigable capacity of the river or the mainstream of which the river is tributary.

A secondary issue, I've already indicated I think and that is whether on the established facts, the Court of Appeals should have rejected the Commission's conclusion that the project would affect the navigable capacity of the Black River and then not on that impendent ground that require a license.

Now, I referred passingly to the statutory language, let me turn if I may to the precise provisions.

Section 23 (b) appears that pages 2 and 3 of the Government's brief.