BEFORE: STARR, and BUCKLEY, Circuit Judges, and JACKSON* District Court Judge
UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS FOR THE DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA CIRCUIT
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ON PETITION FOR REVIEW OF ORDERS OF THE FEDERAL ENERGY REGULATORY COMMISSION
Williston Basin Interstate Pipeline Company petitioned FERC for an adjustment, under section 502(c) of the Natural Gas Policy Act of 1978, 15 U.S.C. § 3412(c), from application of FERC's Orders Nos. 99, 338, and 338-A. See Order No. 338-A, 33 FERC para. 61,175 (1985); Order No. 338, 48 Fed. Reg. 46,268 (Oct. 12, 1983); Order No. 99, "Regulations Covering High-Cost Natural Gas Produced from Tight Formations," 45 Fed. Reg. 56,034 (Aug. 22, 1980). Section 502(c) provides, in pertinent part, that the Commission "shall, by rule, provide for the making of such adjustments . . . as may be necessary to prevent special hardship, inequity, or an unfair distribution of burdens." 15 U.S.C. § 3412(c); see 18 C.F.R. §§ 385.1101, 385.1108.
The requested adjustment would, if granted, relieve Williston from payment to ARCO Oil and Gas Co. of the incentive price applied to "tight formation" natural gas. Any obligation to pay the maximum price allowed under section 107(c) of the NGPA, 15 U.S.C. § 3317(c), would arise out of the contract negotiated between Williston and ARCO dated July 30, 1962, and amended for purposes relevant to this case on December 8, 1981, see Brief for Petitioner at 5-6. That contract is the subject of ongoing litigation in the Texas state courts.*
The Commission, however, denied Williston's petition. See Order Dismissing Complaint and Denying Petition for Adjustment, Williston Basin Interstate Pipeline Co. v. ARCO Oil and Gas Co., 37 FERC para. 61,159 (1986), J.A. at 409; Order Denying Rehearing, Williston Basin Interstate Pipeline Co. v. ARCO Oil and Gas Co., 41 FERC para. 61, 063 (1987), J.A. at 574. Williston petitioned for review of the Commission's denial. We uphold that denial.
In our view, the Commission reasonably exercised its discretion in interpreting the statute and implementing regulations governing the grant of adjustments. FERC reasoned that "[i]f the contract [between Williston and ARCO] is determined to permit or require retroactive payments, it is the contract which causes the special hardship and] or inequity and not the regulations." Order Dismissing Complaint and Denying Petition for Adjustment (supra) J.A. at 412. In accord with section 502's concern with relieving hardship caused by any Commission "rule or order . . . having the applicability and effect of a rule," 15 U.S.C § 3412(a); see id. § 3412(c); 18 C.F.R. § 385.1101; the Commission focused on the proximate cause of the hardship complained of by Williston. FERC concluded, reasonably in our view, that it need not adjust its order when only Williston's own business decision to subject itself to potentially higher prices in consideration for benefits provided by the contract would most directly cause the harm that Williston is now seeking to avoid. In examining whether the party seeking relief particularly controlled the conditions underlying the petition for adjustment, the Commission quite properly limited the scope of its essentially equitable powers under section 502(c). Accord Kaneb Energy Co. v. FERC, 814 F.2d 1083, 1085 (5th Cir. 1987) ("The FERC denied Kaneb relief because it determined that the employee's mistake, regardless of the cause, was not beyond Kaneb's control and therefore did not satisfy the standard for relief under section 502(c). That approach both is rational and comports with FERC precedent."); Gusher Oil & Gas Co., 26 FERC para. 62,075 (1984); Phillips & Spradley, 21 FERC para. 62,240 (1982).
The reasoning supporting the Commission's denial of the adjustment also be recast in terms of FERC's permissible interpretation of the criteria which would trigger the adjustment power: special hardship, inequity, or an unfair distribution of burdens." 15 U.S.C. § 3412(c); see 18 C.F.R. § 385.1108. In this case, Williston asserts, in effect, that great hardship has befallen it. But that hardship, the Commission could reasonably conclude, is the product of Williston's own bargain with ARCO, rather than the "special hardship" criterion found in the statute and implementing regulation, Nor do we discern any of the traditional concerns that FERC should view as calling forth the beneficent power of equity to ameliorate the force of hard-edged legal rules. An informed but, in retrospect, possibly poor exercise of business judgment -- as opposed to factors such as coercion, misfortune without responsibility, bad faith, deception, or the absurd application of an overbroad rule - threatens Williston with unwanted liability for high gas prices. Indeed, the ability (and responsibility) of parties to control and structure their own contractual affairs (with important exceptions carved out for certain coerced, mismatched, or mistaken parties) is fundamental to the law of contract. Cf. Kaneb Energy Co. (supra) 814 F.2d at 1085 (and cases cited). We are satisfied, upon consideration of the parties' competing visions of this case, that the Commission's determinations here constituted a valid exercise of discretion.
An appropriate order will issue accordingly.
This cause came on to be heard on the petition for review of orders of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission and was briefed and argued by counsel. While the issues presented occasion no need for an opinion they have been accorded full consideration by the Court. See D.C.Cir.R.14(c). For the reasons set forth in the accompanying memorandum, it is
ORDERED and ADJUDGED, by the Court, that the petition for review ...