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U.S. Supreme Court

New England Power Co. v. New Hampshire, 455 U.S. 331 (1982)

New England Power Co. v. New Hampshire

No. 80-1208

Argued December 7, 1981

Decided February 24, 1982*

455 U.S. 331


Appellant New England Power Co., a public utility generating and transmitting electricity at wholesale, sells most of its power in Massachusetts and Rhode Island; its wholesale customers service less than 6% of New Hampshire's population. New England Power owns and operates hydroelectric units, some of which are located in New Hampshire. The units are licensed by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) pursuant to the Federal Power Act. A New Hampshire statute, enacted in 1913, prohibits a corporation engaged in the generation of electrical energy by water power from transmitting such energy out of the State unless approval is first obtained from the New Hampshire Public Utilities Commission. The statute empowers that Commission to prohibit the exportation of such energy when it determines that the energy "is reasonably required for use within this state and that the public good requires that it be delivered for such use." Since 1926, New England Power or its predecessor periodically obtained the Commission's approval to transmit electricity produced in New Hampshire to points outside the State. However, in 1980, after an investigation and hearings, the Commission withdrew such approval and ordered New England Power to arrange to sell the previously exported hydroelectric energy within New Hampshire. New England Power, the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, and the Attorney General of Rhode Island appealed the Commission's order to the New Hampshire Supreme Court, contending that the order was preempted by the Federal Power Act and imposed impermissible burdens on interstate commerce. The court rejected those arguments, holding, inter alia, that the "saving clause" of 201(b) of the Federal Power Act granted New Hampshire authority to restrict the interstate transportation of hydroelectric power generated within the State. Section 201(b), which was enacted in 1936, provides that the Act's provisions delegating exclusive authority to the FERC to regulate the transmission and sale at wholesale of electric energy in interstate

Page 455 U. S. 332


"shall not . . . deprive a State or State commission of its lawful authority now exercised over the exportation of hydroelectric energy which is transmitted across a State line."

Held: New Hampshire has sought to restrict the flow of privately owned and produced electricity in interstate commerce in a manner inconsistent with the Commerce Clause. Section 201(b) of the Federal Power Act does not provide an affirmative grant of authority to the State to do so. Pp. 455 U. S. 338-344.

(a) Absent authorizing federal legislation, the Commerce Clause precludes a state from mandating that its residents be given a preferred right of access over out-of-state consumers to natural resources located within its borders or to the products derived therefrom. The New Hampshire Commission's order is precisely the sort of protectionist regulation that the Commerce Clause declares off limits to the states. Moreover, the Commission's "exportation ban" places direct and substantial burdens on transactions in interstate commerce that cannot be squared with the Commerce Clause when they serve only to advance simple economic protectionism. Pp. 455 U. S. 338-340.

(b) In § 201(b), Congress did no more than leave standing whatever valid state laws then existed relating to the exportation of hydroelectric energy. Nothing in the legislative history or language of the statute evinces a congressional intent to alter the limits of state power otherwise imposed by the Commerce Clause, or to modify this Court's earlier holdings concerning the limits of state authority to restrain interstate trade. When Congress has not expressly stated its intent to sustain state legislation from attack under the Commerce Clause, this Court has no authority to rewrite its legislation based on mere speculation as to what Congress probably had in mind. Pp. 455 U. S. 340-343.

120 N.H. 866, 424 A.2d 807, reversed and remanded.

BURGER, C.J.,delivered the opinion for a unanimous Court.

Page 455 U. S. 333

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