United States v. Appalachian Electric Power Co.
311 U.S. 377 (1940)

Annotate this Case

U.S. Supreme Court

United States v. Appalachian Electric Power Co., 311 U.S. 377 (1940)

United States v. Appalachian Electric Power Co.

No. 12

Argued October 14, 15, 1940

Decided December 16, 1940

311 U.S. 377


1. Upon review of a case involving the scope of the federal commerce power in relation to licensing by the Federal Power Commission of a hydroelectric dam, this Court may determine for itself whether a particular waterway is a navigable water of the United States, and it is not precluded by the rule that factual findings concurred in by two courts below will be accepted here unless clear error is shown. P. 311 U. S. 403.

2. The ultimate conclusion as to whether a particular waterway is a navigable water of the United States, and the judicial standards to be applied in making the determination, involve questions of law inseparable from the particular facts to which they are applied. P. 311 U. S. 404.

3. A waterway which by reasonable improvement can be made available for navigation in interstate commerce is a navigable water of the United States, provided there be a balance between cost and need at a time when the improvement would be useful. P. 311 U. S. 407.

4. In such case, it is not necessary that the improvement shall have been already undertaken or completed, nor even that it shall have been authorized. P. 311 U. S. 408.

5. A navigable water of the United States does not lose that character because its use for navigation in interstate commerce has lessened or ceased. Pp. 311 U. S. 408-409.

6. A waterway may be a navigable water of the United States for a part only of its course. P. 311 U. S. 410.

7. Lack of commercial traffic does not preclude the classification of a waterway as a navigable water of the United States where personal or private use by boats demonstrates its availability for the simpler types of commercial navigation. P. 311 U. S. 416.

8. Upon the facts of this case, held that the New River, from Allisonia, Virginia, to Hinton, West Virginia, is a navigable water of the United States. Pp. 311 U. S. 410, 311 U. S. 418-419.

9. It is within the constitutional power of Congress to require that a federal license be obtained for the erection or maintenance of a

Page 311 U. S. 378

structure in a navigable water of the United States, even though the sole purpose of the structure be the generation of electric power. Pp. 311 U. S. 424, 311 U. S. 426.

10. The authority of Congress over navigable waters of the United States is not limited to control for the purposes of navigation only, but is as broad as the needs of commerce. P. 311 U. S. 426.

11. In the exercise of its power over a navigable water of the United States, Congress may forbid the placing of an obstruction therein, or may grant the privilege on such terms as it chooses, and it is no objection that its exercise of power in this respect is attended by the same incidents which attend the exercise of the police power of the States. P. 311 U. S. 427.

12. The Federal Power Act provides that licenses issued by the Federal Power Commission, for projects required by the Act to be licensed, shall contain certain conditions. Section 10(a) requires that the project be best adapted to a comprehensive plan for improving or developing the waterway for the use or benefit of interstate or foreign commerce, for the improvement and utilization of water power development, and for other beneficial public uses, including recreational purposes; § 10(c) requires that the licensee maintain the project adequately for navigation and for efficient power operation, maintain depreciation reserves adequate for renewals and replacements, and conform to the Commission's regulations for the protection of life, health and property; § 10(d) requires that, out of surplus earned after the first 20 years above a specified reasonable rate of return, the licensee maintain amortization reserves to be applied in reduction of net investment; § 10(e) requires the licensee to pay to the United States reasonable annual charges for administering the Act, and authorizes the United States during the first 20 years to expropriate excessive profits unless or until the State prevents such profits; § 14 gives the United States the right, upon expiration of a license, to take over and operate the project by paying the licensee's "net investment," not to exceed the fair value of the property taken. Held, that respondent, a power company which, under license from the State, had undertaken the construction of a hydroelectric dam in New River, could be compelled, in a suit brought by the United States, to obtain from the Commission a license containing conditions authorized by §§ 10(a), (c), (d), (e) and 14 or, in the alternative, to remove its works from the river.

(1) The validity of other provisions of the license, challenged only generally as unrelated to navigation, not decided. P. 311 U. S. 420.

Page 311 U. S. 379

(2) The fact that the provisions of § 14 for acquisition by the United States at the expiration of the license period vitally affect the establishment and financing of respondent's project requires that the question of the validity of the section and of the license provisions based upon it be determined now, and that the determination be not deferred until the right matures and the United States proceeds to exercise it. P. 311 U. S. 421.

(3) Assuming, without deciding, that, by compulsion of the method of acquisition provided by § 14 and the required license, riparian rights of the respondent may ultimately pass to the United States for less than their value, this must be regarded as the price which the respondent must pay for the privilege to maintain the dam, and does not involve a violation of the Fifth Amendment. P. 311 U. S. 427.

(4) The license conditions here considered have an obvious relationship to the exercise of the commerce power. P. 311 U. S. 427.

(5) The provisions for future acquisition of the project by the United States is not an invasion of the sovereignty of the State. P. 311 U. S. 428.

13. A valid exercise by Congress of the power delegated to it by the commerce clause call not constitute an encroachment on state sovereignty in violation of the Tenth Amendment. P. 311 U. S. 428.

14. The Court confines its decision in this case to the concrete legal issues presented, and does not undertake to determine abstract questions as to the relative rights of the States and the United States in respect to the development and control of water power. P. 311 U. S. 423.

107 F.2d 769 reversed.

Certiorari, 309 U.S. 646, to review the affirmance of a decree dismissing a bill brought by the United States against the power company to enjoin the construction of a dam in the New River. Opinion of District Court, 23 F.Supp. 83.

Page 311 U. S. 398

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