Federal Power Commission v. East Ohio Gas Co

Decision Date09 January 1950
Docket NumberNo. 71,71
Citation94 L.Ed. 268,70 S.Ct. 266,338 U.S. 464
CourtU.S. Supreme Court

See 339 U.S. 905, 70 S.Ct. 515.

Mr. Bradford Ross, Washington, D.C., for petitioner.

Mr. William B. Cockley, Cleveland, Ohio, for respondent, East Ohio Gas Co.

Mr. Harry M. Miller, Columbus, Ohio, for respondents, State of Ohio and Public Utilities Commission of Ohio.

Mr. Walter R. McDonald, Washington, D.C., for Indiana Public Service Commission et al., as amici curiae, by Special leave of Court.

[Argument of Counsel from page 465 intentionally omitted] Mr. Justice BLACK delivered the opinion of the Court.

Section 1(b) of the Natural Gas Act1 provides that the Act 'shall apply to the transportation of natural gas in interstate commerce, to the sale in interstate commerce of natural gas for resale for ultimate public consumption * * * and to natural-gas companies engaged in such transportation or sale, but shall not apply to any other transportation or sale of natural gas or to the local distribution of natural gas or to the facilities used for such distribution * * *.' Section 2(6) defines 'natural-gas company' as 'a person engaged in the transportation of natural gas in interstate commerce * * *.' The Federal Power Commission, after hearings, found as facts that respondent East Ohio Gas Company was a natural-gas company and subject to the Commission's jurisdiction.2 On these and subsidiary findings the Company was ordered to keep accounts and submit reports as required by the Act.3 The Commission rejected the Company's contentions4 that its operations were not covered by the Act and that the expense of supplying the required information was so great as to transgress statutory and constitutional limits. 5 The Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia, without reaching other contentions, reversed the Commission's orders on the ground that the Company was not 'engaged in the transportation of natural gas in interstate commerce within the meaning of the Act'.6 Importance of the questions to administration of the Act prompted us to grant certiorari. 337 U.S. 937, 69 S.Ct. 1516, 93 L.Ed. 1742.


East Ohio owns and operates a natural-gas business solely in Ohio, selling gas to more than half a million Ohio consumers through local distribution systems. Most of this natural gas is transported into Ohio from Kansas, Texas, Oklahoma, and West Virginia through pipe lines of Panhandle Eastern Pipe Line Company and of Hope Natural Gas Company, an affiliate of East Ohio. Inside the Ohio boundary these interstate lines connect with East Ohio's large high-pressure lines in which the imported gas, propelled mainly by its own pressure, flows continuously more than 100 miles to East Ohio's local distribution systems. The combined length of these high-pressure trunk lines is at least 650 miles.

That this continuous flow of gas from other states to and through East Ohio's high-pressure lines constitutes interstate transportation has been established by numerous previous decisions of this Court. The gas does not cease its interstate journey the instant it crosses the Ohio boundary or enters East Ohio's pipes, even though that Company operates completely within the state where the gas is finally consumed. Respondents do not and cannot claim that their gas is not in interstate commerce.7 As we held in Interstate Natural Gas Co. v. Federal Power Comm., 331 U.S. 682, 688, 67 S.Ct. 1482, 1486, 91 L.Ed. 1742, the meaning of 'interstate commerce' in this Act is no more restricted than that which theretofore had been given to it in the opinions of this Court.

Respondents contend, however, that the word 'transportation' in § 1(b) must be construed as applying only to companies engaged in the business of transporting gas in interstate commerce for hire or for sales to be followed by resales, whereas East Ohio does neither. The short answer is that the Act's language did not express any such limitation. Despite the unqualified language of § 1(b) making the Act apply to 'transportation of natural gas in interstate commerce,' respondents ask us to qualify that language by applying it only to businesses which both transport and sell natural gas for resale. They rely on a sentence in the declaration of policy, § 1(a), referring to 'the business of transporting and selling natural gas'. But their contention that the word 'and' in the policy provision creates an unseverable bond is completely refuted by the clearly disjunctive phrasing of § 1(b) itself. As we pointed out in Panhandle Eastern Pipe Line Co. v. Public Service Comm., 332 U.S. 507, 516, 68 S.Ct. 190, 195, 92 L.Ed. 128, § 1(b) made the Natural Gas Act applicable to three separate things: '(1) the transportation of natural gas in interstate commerce; (2) its sale in interstate commerce for resale; and (3) natural gas companies engaged in such transportation or sale.' And throughout the Act 'transportation' and 'sale' are viewed as separate subjects of regulation. They have independent and equally important places in the Act. Thus, to adopt respondents' construction would unduly restrict the Commission's power to carry out one of the major policies of the Act. Moreover, the initial interest of Congress in regulation of transportation facilities was reemphasized in 1942 by passage of an amendment to § 7(c) of the Act broadening the Commission's powers over the construction or extension of pipe lines. 56 Stat. 83. This amendment followed a report of the Commission to Con- gress pointing out that without amendment the Act vested the Commission with inadequate power to make 'any serious effort to control the unplanned construction of natural-gas pipe lines with a view to conserving one of the country's valuable but exhaustible energy resources.'8 We hold that the word 'transportation' like the phrase 'interstate commerce' aptly describes the movements of gas in East Ohio's High-pressure pipe lines.9

Respondents also contend that East Ohio is exempt from the Act because all its facilities come within the proviso in § 1(b) making the Act inapplicable 'to the local distribution of natural gas or to the facilities used for such distribution'. But what Congress must have meant by facilities' for 'local distribution' was equipment for distributing gas among consumers within a par- ticular local community, not the high-pressure pipe lines transporting the gas to the local mains. For in decisions prior to enactment of the statute this Court had sharply distinguished between the two: it had made it clear that the national commerce power alone covered the high-pressure trunk lines to the point where pressure was reduced and the gas entered local mains, while the state alone could regulate the gas after it entered those mains.10 The legislative history shows that the attention of Congress was directly focused on the cases drawing this distinction. It was because these cases had barred federal regulation of community supply systems that the Committee Report could correctly describe the 'local distri- bution' proviso as surplusage which was 'not actually necessary.'11 We are wholly unpersuaded that Congress intended to treat trunk lines like East Ohio's as though they were mere integrated facilities of the numerous community supply systems which they service. Indeed, as respondents admitted upon oral argument here, the logical consequence of such a principle would be that even a pipe line stretching from Texas to Cleveland would be completely exempt from the federal Commission's jurisdiction if it were owned by East Ohio. To draw such a strained inference from the congressional exemption of local distribution systems would ignore the importance of nationally controlling interstate pipe lines in order to preserve 'equality of opportunity and treatment among the various communities and states concerned.' State of Missouri v. Kansas Natural Gas Co., 265 U.S. 298, 310, 44 S.Ct. 544, 546, 68 L.Ed. 1027.

What we have said indicates that East Ohio comes squarely within the coverage of the Act as set out in §§ 1(b) and 2(6). Nevertheless respondents contend that this express coverage is restricted by the broad purpose of the Act to provide federal regulation only for those companies which states could not regulate. Urging that all of East Ohio's business is fully subject to regulation by the state, they rely on statements by this Court that Congress intended not to cut down state regulatory power, but rather to supplement it by closing 'the gap created by the prior decisions.' Panhandle Eastern Pipe Line Co. v. Public Service Comm., 332 U.S. 507, 517—519, 68 S.Ct. 190, 195—196, 92 L.Ed. 128; see also Public Utilities Comm. of Ohio v United Fuel Gas Co., 317 U.S. 456, 467, 63 S.Ct. 369, 375, 87 L.Ed. 396. We adhere to those statements. But prior constitutional decisions, not what we have since decided or would decide today, form the measure of the gap which Congress intended to close by this Act. Illinois Natural Gas Co. v. Central Illinois Public Service Co., 314 U.S. 498, 508, 62 S.Ct. 384, 388, 86 L.Ed. 371; and see Parker v. Motor Boat Sales, 314 U.S. 244, 250, 62 S.Ct. 221, 225, 86 L.Ed. 184.

In a series of cases repeatedly called to the attention of the House Committee,12 this Court had declared that states could regulate interstate gas only after it was reduced in pressure and entered a local distribution system. Public Utilities Comm. v. Landon, 249 U.S. 236, 243, 39 S.Ct. 268, 63 L.Ed. 577; State of Missouri v. Kansas Natural Gas Co., 265 U.S. 298, 310, 44 S.Ct. 544, 546, 68 L.Ed. 1027; Poublic Utilities Comm. v. Attleboro Steam & Electric Co., 273 U.S. 83, 89, 47 S.Ct. 294, 496, 71 L.Ed. 549; and see East Ohio Gas Co. v. Tax Comm., 283 U.S. 465, 470 472, 51 S.Ct. 499, 500—501, 75 L.Ed. 1171.13 Under these decisions state regulatory power could not reach high-pressure trunk lines and sales for resale. This...

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