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U.S. Supreme Court

United States v. Public Utilities Comm'n, 345 U.S. 295 (1953)

United States v. Public Utilities Commission of California

No. 205

Argued January 14, 1953

Decided April 6, 1953*

345 U.S. 295


Respondent power company produces electricity in California, partially by hydroelectric projects licensed under Part I of the Federal Power Act, as amended by Title II of the Public Utility Act of 1935, and sells a portion of it to the Navy Department and to a Nevada county for consumption in Nevada. The power is transmitted at high voltage to the company's substation in California, whence it is transmitted over lines owned by the Navy and by the County into Nevada, where it is stepped down for local distribution and consumption. The power sold to the Navy is used largely in official operations at a Navy depot, though part is distributed for private consumption at a nearby Navy housing project. The power sold to the County is practically all resold to local consumers.

Held: the rates for such sales of power for resale are subject to regulation by the Federal Power Commission under Part II of the Federal Power Act. Pp. 345 U. S. 299-318.

1. The Federal Power Commission has jurisdiction under § 201(b) of the Act, which extends "to the transmission of electric energy in interstate commerce and to the sale of electric energy at wholesale in interstate commerce," and regulation of the rates of such sales is authorized by §§ 205(a) and 206(a). Pp. 345 U. S. 299-300.

(a) The operations in question are in interstate commerce within the meaning of § 201(b) of the Act, and the fact that the electricity is transmitted across the state boundary over lines owned by the Navy and by the County, as purchasers, is irrelevant. Pp. 345 U. S. 299-300.

(b) The limitation in Part II of the Act that federal regulation shall "extend only to those matters which are not subject to regulation by the States" does not apply to the facts of this case, and § 20 of Part I of the Act does not require a different result. Pp. 345 U. S. 300-311.

Page 345 U. S. 296

(c) Federal rate jurisdiction under Part II is not excluded by the fact that some portion of the power sold originated in hydroelectric projects federally licensed under Part I. P. 345 U. S. 302.

(d) By § 20 of Part I, Congress did not confer on the States jurisdiction over hydroelectric energy transmitted across state lines for resale. Pp. 345 U. S. 303-305.

(e) Congress in § 20 of Part I did not charge the States with the responsibility of regulating rates of interstate sales of electricity through the use of the federal power over government property. P. 345 U. S. 305.

(f) The limitations of § 201(a) on federal regulation cannot, and were not intended to, preserve an exclusive state regulation of wholesale hydroelectric sales across state borders. Pp. 345 U. S. 310-311.

2. The Federal Power Commission has authority over the sales to the County and to the Navy. Pp. 345 U. S. 312-316.

(a) The provision of subsection (c) of § 201 that "sale of electric energy at wholesale" means a sale to any "person" for resale, is not to be construed as excluding sales to a municipality or to the Navy. Pp. 345 U. S. 312-316.

(b) The addition of the word "person" in the definitions in § 201(d) was not intended as a limitation on the jurisdiction of the Commission. P. 345 U. S. 313.

3. The sales here were not exempt from Commission jurisdiction under § 201(b) as sales over "local distribution" facilities, and they were "for resale" though the contracts did not so specify. P. 345 U. S. 316.

4. Whether the Federal Power Commission may exercise rate authority over the entire amount of power sold or merely that which is resold by the Navy is a question which is not ripe for consideration by this Court on the instant record. Pp. 345 U. S. 316-318.


Orders of the California Public Utilities Commission asserted jurisdiction over rates for certain sales of electric power by the respondent power company. 50 Cal.P.U.C. 749; 89 P.U.R.(N.S.) 359. The State Supreme Court denied review, thus affirming the orders. This Court granted certiorari. 344 U.S. 810. Reversed, p. 345 U. S. 318.

Page 345 U. S. 297

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