ASU Morrison Prize honors proposal to reform energy law, improve grid reliability


Windmills against a blue sky

Four professors from different universities have won the annual Morrison Prize presented by the law and sustainability program at the Sandra Day O'Connor College of Law at Arizona State University.

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The Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law at Arizona State University has just awarded its prestigious Morrison Prize to a group of professors from four different law schools for their article arguing that continued reliance on fossil fuels will only exacerbate the reliability challenges plaguing the nation’s electric grid. The article outlines innovative strategies for strengthening grid reliability while accelerating the nation’s transition to a lower-carbon energy system.

Their prize-winning paper, titled “Grid Reliability Through Clean Energy,” appeared in the Stanford Law Review in 2022 and was authored by professors Alexandra Klass, Joshua Macey, Shelley Welton and Hannah Wiseman. The Morrison Prize Contest is a nationally recognized competition established in 2015 and administered through the program in law and sustainability at ASU's Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law. The 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 and is named after its benefactor, Richard N. Morrison, who co-founded ASU’s Morrison Institute for Public Policy. The winners will present this year’s winning article at ASU’s eighth annual SRP Sustainability Conference of American Legal Educators on May 12 in downtown Phoenix.

University of Michigan Professor Alexandra Klass thanked ASU Law for the honor and praised it for its contribution to complex sustainability issues.

“The Morrison Prize and ASU’s annual sustainability conference have become key drivers in bringing together scholars and practitioners to tackle the important energy and sustainability challenges of our day,” she said. “I am delighted that our article was recognized as part of that effort.”

University of Pennsylvania Law Professor Shelley Welton noted the generosity of ASU’s annual event and spoke of the collaborative effort of the prize-winning paper.

“I am tremendously honored to receive the Morrison Prize as part of this wonderful group of co-authors. Winning for this paper is particularly gratifying because I don’t believe we could have written this piece separately — it really was a collective effort greater than the sum of our individual expertise,” she said. 

Joshua Macey, who teaches law at the University of Chicago and previously won the prize in 2021 and 2022, said the event is a yearly highlight for him.

“ASU’s sustainability conference is an amazing event and always a highlight of the year for me,” he said. “I’m extremely grateful to the ASU law school, to Troy Rule and to Mr. Morrison for helping to cultivate academic community and for bringing together so many different voices in the environmental movement.”

For her part, Penn State Law Professor Hannah Wiseman said she was grateful for the opportunity the Morrison Prize creates to draw national attention to sustainability-oriented legal scholarship each year.

“ASU’s Morrison Prize has been instrumental in drawing greater attention to diverse environmental, energy and natural resources scholarship that aims to move forward sustainability efforts,” she said. “This team of authors is incredibly excited to receive this prize and thankful for the time and resources that Mr. Morrison and ASU have invested in administering the prize and bringing together law professors for productive and innovative discussions in the space of sustainability policy.”

Professor Troy Rule, faculty director of ASU’s law and sustainability program, noted that the Morrison Prize contest continues to grow in prestige and influence year after year.

“Richard Morrison’s generosity in continuing to fund this prize contest is helping to drive sustainability-focused academic research in truly impactful ways,” he said. “ASU is extremely fortunate to partner with him in this important effort.”

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.

Past winners

In 2022, Federal Energy Regulatory Commission general counsel Matthew Christiansen and University of Chicago Law Professor Joshua Macey won the Morrison Prize for their article “Long Live the Federal Power Act’s Bright Line.” 

In 2021, University of Chicago Law Professor Joshua Macey won the Morrison Prize for his article “Zombie Energy Laws,” which described how certain energy laws were impacting the nation’s decarbonization efforts.

In 2020, Vanderbilt University Law School professors Jim Rossi and Christopher Serkin won the Morrison Prize for their insightful article “Energy Exactions,” which was published in the spring 2019 issue of the Cornell Law Review. The article described how local governments could better leverage their land use regulatory authority to drive substantial increases in rooftop solar energy installations and energy-efficient real estate development.

In 2019, a six-author team won the Morrison Prize for an unprecedented analysis of the structuring of conservation easements in the face of rapid climate change. The article, titled “Climate change challenges for land conservation: Rethinking conservation easements, strategies, and tools,” was co-written by Federico Cheever, a professor at the University of Denver Sturm College of Law; Jessica Owley, director of the environmental law program at University of Buffalo - State University of New York; Adena R. Rissman, an associate professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison Department of Forestry and Wildlife Ecology; M. Rebecca Shaw, chief scientist at the World Wide Fund for Nature; Barton H. Thompson Jr., a professor of natural resources at Stanford Law School; and W. William Weeks, director of the Conservation Law Clinic at Indiana University’s Maurer School of Law.

In 2018, Minnesota Law School Professor Hari M. Osofsky and Jacqueline Peel, associate dean of the University of Melbourne Law School in Australia, won the prize for their academic article “Energy Partisanship.” They outlined the critical importance of circumventing fierce political divisions in order to combat climate change, and provided guidance for doing so.

In 2017, Vanderbilt University professors Michael P. Vandenbergh and Jonathan Gilligan won the prize for "Beyond Gridlock." The article underscored the difficulties of effecting change through government and highlighted the underutilized potential to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions through the private sector.

In 2016, Dave Owen, a professor at University of California, Hastings College of Law, and Colin Aspe, a freshwater conservation advisor at the Nature Conservancy, were the inaugural winners of the Morrison Prize. Their article, “Trading Dams,” described creative new policy approaches for better balancing hydroelectric energy generation and environmental protection on the nation’s river system. 

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