People Natural Gas Co v. Public Service Commission of Pennsylvania, s. 70

Decision Date12 April 1926
Docket NumberNos. 70,71,s. 70
Citation270 U.S. 550,70 L.Ed. 726,46 S.Ct. 371
CourtU.S. Supreme Court

Messrs. George B. Gordon, Wm. Watson Smith, Arthur E. Young, and S. G. Nolin, all of Pittsburgh, Pa., for plaintiff in error.

Mr. F. M. Hunter, of Harrisburg, Pa., for defendant in error Public Service Commission of Pennsylvania.

Mr. J. E. B. Cunningham, of Harrisburg, Pa., for defendant in error city of Johnstown.

Mr. Justice VAN DEVANTER delivered the opinion of the Court.

These two cases are practically but one. The matter in controversy is the constitutional validity of an order of the Public Service Commission of Pennsylvania requiring the People's Natural Gas Company to continue its prior practice of supplying natural gas to another company at Johnstown for sale to consumers in that city. On successive appeals to the Superior Court and the Supreme Court of the state the People's Company challenged the order as directly regulating and burdening interstate commerce and depriving the company of property without due process of law in violation of constitutional restraints on state action; but both contentions were overruled and the order was sustained. 79 Pa. Super. Ct. 560; 123 A. ,799, 279 Pa. 252. On these writs of error the company relies only on the contention that the order is a forbidden interference with interstate commerce.

The People's Company is a public service corporation created under the laws of Pennsylvania, and engaged in producing, purchasing, transporting by pipe line, and selling natural gas. It purchases about two-thirds of the gas which it transports and sells from a producing company in West Virginia having pipe lines leading from wells in that state to the boundary between the two states, and it produces the other one-third from its own wells in the southwestern counties of Pennsylvania. It has a system of pipe lines in Pennsylvania, which is connected at the state boundary with the lines of the West Virginia company, and leads thence to Pittsburgh, Johnstown, and other Pennsylvania cities and boroughs, where it sells the gas. The gas coming from West Virginia is transported, through the pipe lines as connected at the state boundary, in a continuous stream from the places of production in one state to those of consumption in the other. At the state boundary that gas passes through a registering meter, and that point is treated as the place of delivery to the People's Company; but the transportation is not interrupted there. The gas from the company's wells in Pennsylvania is fed into the moving stream at different points after it crosses the state boundary. The movement of the stream towards the points of destination is accelerated by means of pumps in Pennsylvania-one near the state line and one remote from it.

The People's Company sells directly to consumers at the several places of consumption. other than Johnstown, and there it sells to an independent company, having a local franchise and distributing plant, which sells to con- sumers. For upwards of 10 years the gas sold to that company was supplied under a contract, but when the order in question was made the People's Company had exercised a reserved privilege of terminating the contract; and the commission, in making the order, proceeded on the theory that the People's Company is a public service corporation, and may be required, irrespective of the terms of the contract, to continue supplying gas to the local company, and thus to continue its indirect service to Johnstown consumers. The order does not fix the rate for this service, but contemplates that it shall be fixed primarily by a schedule to be filed by the People's Company and shall be subject to supervision by the commission as respects its reasonableness.

In the state courts the cases had many features which are immaterial here and need not be noticed.

The Supreme Court of the state, in overruling the contention that the order is a forbidden interference with interstate commerce, put its decision on two grounds: First, that no interstate commerce is involved; and, secondly, that if such commerce is involved the order is not a forbidden interference, but an admissible exertion of...

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