Joshua Macey, an assistant professor of law at the University of Chicago Law School, is the recipient of the 2021 Arizona State University Morrison Prize, which is awarded to the most impactful sustainability-related legal academic article published in North America during the previous year. Macey’s winning article, “Zombie Energy Laws,” focuses on reforming utility laws to combat climate change.
Zombie energy laws are statutes, regulations and judicial precents that continue to apply even after their underlying economic and legal bases disappears. These laws were originally designed to protect consumers against electric utilities and from being exploited by their market power, but now the tables have turned. Today, they protect fossil fuel generators and prevent utilities from shifting to renewable energy by providing the legal basis for invalidating billions of dollars of wind and solar projects. Macey argues that under the Federal Power Act, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission could mitigate and eliminate market distortions caused by zombie energy laws.
“I was completely thrilled to learn that I had won the Morrison Prize this year and honored to see ‘Zombie Energy Laws’ join the company of the past winners’ brilliant work,” Macey said. “Zombie Energy Laws examines how century-old laws designed to protect consumers in the public utility era are now being used to harm consumers and impede decarbonization goals. I hope that, as the federal government takes a more proactive approach to addressing climate change, it will consider how legacy rules from the public utility era could undermine those efforts.”
Professor Troy Rule, Faculty Director of the Law and Sustainability Program at ASU Law, said “Professor Macey’s article boldly challenges the status quo, persuasively describing how certain utility laws that presently obstruct the sustainable energy transition could be restructured into powerful decarbonization tools.”
The Morrison Prize is administered through the Program on Law and Sustainability and the Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law at Arizona State University. Each year, law professors from throughout the world who have recently published articles in North American legal academic journals are eligible to enter the Morrison Prize Contest. All entries undergo independent review and scoring by a group of professors, not affiliated with ASU, who teach in environmental sustainability-related areas at various North American law schools. The scores from these judges are aggregated to determine the prize winner.