Professor Joshua Macey Honored for Proposal to Combat Climate Change through Utility Law Reform

Josh Macey

Joshua C. Macey, an assistant professor at the University of Chicago Law School, believes the time has come for states and the federal government to abandon certain outdated utility laws that are obstructing the nation’s push toward cleaner, more renewable energy sources.

Macey’s arguments are detailed in his paper, “Zombie Energy Laws,” which was just awarded the 2021 Morrison Prize—an honor established in 2015 and administered through the Program on Law and Sustainability at the Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law at Arizona State University.

The ASU Morrison Prize Contest awards a $10,000 prize annually to the authors of the most impactful sustainability-related legal academic article published in North America during the previous year. The prize is named after its benefactor, Richard N. Morrison, who is also a co-founder of the Morrison Institute for Public Policy at ASU.

Macey’s paper, which was originally published in the May 2020 issue of the Vanderbilt Law Review, was also honored by the Environmental Law and Policy Annual Review (ELPAR) as one of the top four environmental law articles published in the past year. ELPAR, which will republish “Zombie Energy Laws” in April, is a special issue of the Environmental Law Reporter. It is published in collaboration with the Vanderbilt University Law School and the Environmental Law Institute in Washington, DC.

Macey, who joined the Law School last summer, focuses on energy, corporate, and environmental law and the regulation of financial institutions.

“Zombie Energy Laws” examines the impact of outmoded utility laws and considers how those laws undermine competitive electricity markets and favor incumbent fossil fuel generators. These “zombie laws” are increasingly slowing the transition to a sustainable, carbon-free energy system, but, as Macey explains, shedding them could accelerate the country’s progress in combatting climate change.

“These century-old laws designed to protect consumers in the public utility era are now being used to harm consumers and impede decarbonization goals,” Macey said. “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.”

Macey plans to travel to Phoenix in May to present his article and formally accept the prize at the Sixth Annual SRP Sustainability Conference of American Legal Educators.

He said he is thrilled by both honors.

“I was delighted to learn that 'Zombie Energy Laws' was recognized by the Morrison Prize and the Environmental Law and Policy Annual Review,” Macey said. “I greatly admire the work of previous winners and hope that, as we begin to take our climate commitments seriously, we reconsider the legal framework that too often puts a foot on the scale in favor of fossil fuel producers.”

Professor Troy Rule, Faculty Director of the Law and Sustainability Program at ASU Law, said Macey has developed inventive ideas that could facilitate significant progress in the environmental sustainability movement.

“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,” Rule said. “We look forward to hearing Professor Macey present his article at ASU Law and are deeply grateful to Richard Morrison for his generous support of this prestigious prize.”

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.