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FEDERAL POWER COMMISSION v. TUSCARORA INDIAN NATION

decided*fn*: March 7, 1960.

FEDERAL POWER COMMISSION
v.
TUSCARORA INDIAN NATION



CERTIORARI TO THE UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS FOR THE DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA CIRCUIT.

Warren, Black, Frankfurter, Douglas, Clark, Harlan, Brennan, Whittaker, Stewart

Author: Whittaker

[ 362 U.S. Page 100]

 MR. JUSTICE WHITTAKER delivered the opinion of the Court.

The ultimate question presented by these cases is whether certain lands, purchased and owned in fee simple by the Tuscarora Indian Nation and lying adjacent to a natural power site on the Niagara River near the town of Lewiston, New York, may be taken for the storage reservoir of a hydroelectric power project, upon the payment of just compensation, by the Power Authority of the State of New York under a license issued to it by the Federal Power Commission as directed by Congress in Public Law 85-159, approved August 21, 1957, 71 Stat. 401.

The Niagara River, an international boundary stream and a navigable waterway of the United States, flows from Lake Erie to Lake Ontario, a distance of 36 miles. Its mean flow is about 200,000 cubic feet per second. The river drops about 165 feet at Niagara Falls and an additional 140 feet in the rapids immediately above and below the falls. The "head" created by these great falls, combined with the large and steady flow of the river, makes the Lewiston power site, located below the rapids, an extremely favorable one for hydroelectric development.

[ 362 U.S. Page 101]

     For the purpose of avoiding "continuing waste of a great natural resource and to make it possible for the United States of America and Canada to develop, for the benefit of their respective peoples, equal shares of the waters of the Niagara River available for power purposes," the United States and Canada entered into the Treaty of February 27, 1950,*fn1 providing for a flow of 100,000 cubic feet per second over Niagara Falls during certain specified daytime and evening hours of the tourist season (April 1 to October 31) and of 50,000 cubic feet per second at other times, and authorizing the equal division by the United States and Canada of all excess waters for power purposes.*fn2

In consenting to the 1950 Treaty, the Senate imposed the condition that "no project for redevelopment of the United States' share of such waters shall be undertaken until it be specifically authorized by Act of Congress." 1 U. S. T. 694, 699. To that end, a study was made and reported to Congress in 1951 by the United States Army Corps of Engineers respecting the most feasible plans for utilizing all of the waters available to the United States under the 1950 Treaty, and detailed plans embodying other studies were prepared and submitted to Congress prior to June 7, 1956, by the Bureau of Power of the Federal Power Commission, the Power Authority of New

[ 362 U.S. Page 102]

     York, and the Niagara Mohawk Power Corporation.*fn3 To enable utilization of all of the United States' share of the Niagara waters by avoiding waste of the nighttime and week-end flow that would not be needed at those times for the generation of power, all of the studies and plans provided for a pumping-generating plant to lift those waters at those times into a reservoir, and for a storage reservoir to contain them until released for use -- through the pumping-generating plant, when its motors (operating in reverse) would serve as generators -- during the daytime hours when the demand for power would be highest and the diversion of waters from the river would be most restricted by the treaty. Estimates of dependable capacity of the several recommended projects varied from 1,240,000 to 1,723,000 kilowatts, and estimates of the needed reservoir capacity varied from 22,000 acre-feet covering 850 acres to 41,000 acre-feet covering 1,700 acres. The variations in these estimates were largely due to differing assumptions as to the length of the daily period of peak demand.

Although there was "no controversy as to the most desirable engineering plan of development,"*fn4 there was serious disagreement in Congress over whether the project should be publicly or privately developed and over marketing preferences and other matters of policy. That disagreement continued through eight sessions of Committee Hearings, during which more than 30 proposed bills were considered, in the Eighty-first to Eighty-fifth Congresses,*fn5 and delayed congressional authorization of the project for seven years.

[ 362 U.S. Page 103]

     On June 7, 1956, a rock slide destroyed the Schoellkopf plant.*fn6 This created a critical shortage of electric power in the Niagara community. It also required expansion of the plans for the Niagara project if the 20,000 cubic feet per second of water that had been reserved for the Schoellkopf plant was to be utilized. Accordingly, the Power Authority of New York prepared and submitted to Congress a major revision of the project plans. Those revised plans, designed to utilize all of the Niagara waters available to the United States under the 1950 Treaty, provided for an installed capacity of 2,190,000 kilowatts, of which 1,800,000 kilowatts would be dependable power for 17 hours per day, necessitating a storage reservoir of 60,000 acre-feet capacity covering about 2,800 acres.*fn7

[ 362 U.S. Page 104]

     Confronted with the destruction of the Schoellkopf plant and the consequent critical need for electric power in the Niagara community, Congress speedily composed its differences in the manner and terms prescribed in Public Law 85-159, approved August 21, 1957. 71 Stat. 401. By § 1 (a) of that Act, Congress "expressly authorized and directed" the Federal Power Commission "to issue a license to the Power Authority of the State of New York for the construction and operation of a power project with capacity to utilize all of the United States share of the water of the Niagara River permitted to be used by international agreement." By § 1 (b) of the Act, the Federal Power Commission was directed to "include among the licensing conditions, in addition to those deemed necessary and required under the terms of the Federal Power Act," seven conditions which are of only collateral importance here.*fn8 The concluding section of the Act, § 2, provides: "The license issued under the terms

[ 362 U.S. Page 105]

     of this Act shall be granted in conformance with Rules of Practice and Procedure of the Federal Power Commission, but in the event of any conflict, the provisions of this Act shall govern in respect of the project herein authorized."

Thereafter, the Power Authority of the State of New York, a municipal corporation created under the laws of that State to develop the St. Lawrence and Niagara power projects, applied to the Federal Power Commission for the project license which Congress had thus directed the Commission to issue to it. Its application embraced the project plans that it had submitted to the Eighty-fifth Congress shortly before its approval of Public Law 85-159.*fn9 The project was scheduled to be completed in 1963 at an estimated cost of $720,000,000.

Hearings were scheduled by the Commission, of which due notice was given to all interested parties, including the Tuscarora Indian Nation, inasmuch as the application contemplated the taking of some of its lands for the reservoir. The Tuscarora Indian Nation intervened and objected to the taking of any of its lands upon the ground "that the applicant lacks authority to acquire them." At the hearings, it was shown that the Tuscarora lands needed for the reservoir -- then thought to be about 1,000 acres -- are part of a separate tract of 4,329 acres purchased in fee simple by the Tuscarora Indian Nation, with the assistance of Henry Dearborn, then Secretary of War, from the Holland Land Company on November 21, 1804, with the

[ 362 U.S. Page 106]

     proceeds derived from the contemporaneous sale of their lands in North Carolina -- from which they had removed in about the year 1775 to reside with the Oneidas in central New York.*fn10

After concluding the hearings, the Commission, on January 30, 1958, issued its order granting the license. It found that a reservoir having a usable storage capacity of 60,000 acre-feet "is required to properly utilize the water resources involved." Although the Commission found that the Indian lands "are almost entirely undeveloped

[ 362 U.S. Page 107]

     except for agricultural use," it did not pass upon the Tuscaroras' objection to the taking of their lands because it then assumed that "other lands are available for reservoir use if the Applicant is unable to acquire the Indian lands." But the Commission did direct the licensee to revise its exhibit covering the reservoir, to more definitely show the area and acreage involved, and to resubmit it to the Commission for approval within a stated time.

In its application for rehearing, the Tuscarora Indian Nation contended, among other things, that the portion of its lands sought to be taken for the reservoir was part of a "reservation," as defined in § 3 (2), and as used in § 4 (e), of the Federal Power Act,*fn11 and therefore could not lawfully be taken for reservoir purposes in the absence of a finding by the Commission "that the license will not interfere or be inconsistent with the purpose for which such reservation was created or acquired." By its order of March 21, 1958, denying that application for rehearing, the Commission found that "the best location of the reservoir would require approximately 1,000 acres of land owned by Intervenor," and it held that the Indian lands involved "are not part of a 'reservation' referred to in Section 4 (e) as defined in Section 3 (2) of the [Federal Power] Act and the finding suggested by Intervenor is not required." On May 5, 1958, the Commission issued its order approving the licensee's revised exhibit which precisely delineated the location, area, and acreage to be embraced by the reservoir -- which included 1,383 acres of the Tuscaroras' lands.

On May 16, 1958, the Tuscarora Indian Nation filed a petition for review in the Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit challenging the license issued by the Commission on January 30, 1958, insofar as it

[ 362 U.S. Page 108]

     would authorize the taking of Tuscarora lands.*fn12 By its opinion and interim judgment of November 14, 1958, the Court of Appeals held that the Tuscarora lands sought to be taken for the reservoir constitute a part of a "reservation"

[ 362 U.S. Page 109]

     within the meaning of §§ 3 (2) and 4 (e) of the Federal Power Act, and that the Commission may not include those lands in the license in the absence of a § 4 (e) finding that their taking "will not interfere or be inconsistent with the purpose for which such reservation was created or acquired," and the court remanded the case to the Commission that it might "explore the possibility of making that finding." 105 U. S. App. D.C. 146, 265 F.2d 338.

Upon remand, the Commission held extensive hearings, exploring not only the matter of the making of the finding held necessary by the Court of Appeals but also the possibility of locating the reservoir on other lands. In its order of February 2, 1959, the Commission found that the use of other lands for the reservoir would result in great delay, severe community disruption, and unreasonable expense; that a reservoir with usable storage capacity of 60,000 acre-feet is required to utilize all of the United States' share of the water of the Niagara River, as required by Public Law 85-159; that removal of the reservoir from the Tuscarora lands by reducing the area of the reservoir would reduce the usable storage capacity from 60,000 acre-feet to 30,000 acre-feet and result in a loss of about 300,000 kilowatts of dependable capacity. But it concluded that, although other lands contiguous to their reservation might be acquired by the Tuscaroras,*fn13

[ 362 U.S. Page 110]

     the taking of the 1,383 acres of Tuscarora lands for the reservoir "would interfere and would be inconsistent with the purpose for which the reservation was created or acquired." That order was transmitted to the Court of Appeals which, on March 24, 1959, after considering various motions of the parties, entered its final judgment approving the license except insofar as it would authorize the taking of Tuscarora lands for the reservoir, and remanded the case to the Commission with instructions to amend the license "to exclude specifically the power of the said Power Authority to condemn the said lands of the Tuscarora Indians for reservoir purposes." 105 U. S. App. D.C., at 152, 265 F.2d, at 344.

Because of conflict between the views of the court below and those of the Second Circuit, and of the general importance of the questions involved, we granted certiorari. 360 U.S. 915.

The parties have urged upon us a number of contentions, but we think these cases turn upon the answers to two questions, namely, (1) whether the Tuscarora lands covered by the Commission's license are part of a "reservation" as defined and used in the Federal Power Act, 16 U. S. C. § 791a et seq., and, if not, (2) whether those lands may be condemned by the licensee, under the eminent domain powers conferred by § 21 of the Federal Power Act, 16 U. S. C. § 814. We now turn to a consideration of those questions in the order stated.

I.

A Commission finding that "the license will not interfere or be inconsistent with the purpose for which such reservation was created or acquired" is required by § 4 (e)

[ 362 U.S. Page 111]

     of the Federal Power Act, 16 U. S. C. § 797 (e), only if the lands involved are within a "reservation" in the sense of that term as defined and used in that Act. That by generally accepted standards and common understanding these Tuscarora lands may be part of a "reservation" is not at all decisive of whether they are such within the meaning of the Federal Power Act. Congress was free and competent artificially to define the term "reservations" for the purposes it prescribed in that Act. And we are bound to give effect to its definition of that term, for it would be idle for Congress to define the sense in which it used it "if we were free in despite of it to choose a meaning for ourselves." Fox v. Standard Oil Co., 294 U.S. 87, 96. By § 3 (2) of the Federal Power Act, 16 U. S. C. § 796 (2), Congress has provided:

"SEC. 3. The words defined in this section shall have the following meanings for purposes of this Act, to wit:

"(2) 'reservations' means national forests, tribal lands embraced within Indian reservations, military reservations, and other lands and interests in lands owned by the United States, and withdrawn, reserved, or withheld from private appropriation and disposal under the public land laws; also lands and interests in lands acquired and held for any public purpose; but shall not include national monuments or national parks." (Emphasis added.)

The plain words of this definition seem rather clearly to show that Congress intended the term "reservations," wherever used in the Act, to embrace only "lands and interests in lands owned by the United States."

Turning to the definition's legislative history, we find that it, too, strongly indicates that such was the congressional intention. In the original draft bill of the Federal

[ 362 U.S. Page 112]

     Water Power Act of 1920, as proposed by the Administration and passed by the House in the Sixty-fifth and Sixty-sixth Congresses, the term was defined as follows:

"'Reservations' means lands and interest in lands owned by the United States and withdrawn, reserved, or withheld from private appropriation and disposal under the public-land laws, and lands and interest in lands acquired and held for any public purpose."*fn14

It is difficult to perceive how congressional intention could be more clearly and definitely expressed. However, after the bill reached the Senate it inserted the words "national monuments, national parks, national forests, tribal lands embraced within Indian reservations, military reservations, and other " (emphasis added) at the beginning of the definition.*fn15 When the bill was returned to the House it was explained that the Senate's "amendment recasts the House definition of 'reservations.'"*fn16 The bill as enacted contained the definition as thus recast. It remains in that form, except for the deletion of the words "national monuments, national parks," which was occasioned by the Act of March 3, 1921 (41 Stat. 1353), negating Commission authority to license any project works within "national monuments or national parks," and those words were finally deleted from the definition by amendment in 1935. 49 Stat. 838. It seems entirely clear that no change in substance was intended or effected by the Senate's amendment, and that its "recasting" only specified, as illustrative, some of the "reservations" on "lands and interests in lands owned by the United States."

Further evidence that Congress intended to limit "reservations," for the "purposes of ...


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