Skip to main content

Mayes chosen to head new program on law, sustainability

December 01, 2010

Kristin K. Mayes, an Arizona Corporation Commissioner who has helped Arizona become a national model for energy innovation, has been chosen to head the new Program on Law and Sustainability at the Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law at Arizona State University.

Mayes will serve as professor of practice and faculty director of the new program, created in partnership with ASU’s Global Institute of Sustainability, where Mayes will be Senior Sustainability Scientist.

“Kris Mayes is a major national innovator in developing new paradigms for how utility companies and utility regulators will need to operate in the coming decades,” said College of Law Dean Paul Schiff Berman. “Kris joins Dan Bodansky, hired last year, and together they immediately will catapult this new program to a position of international leadership in an area of law and policy that is crucial both to our nation's economic future and our planet’s long-term survival.”

Bodansky is the ASU Lincoln Professor of Law, Ethics, and Sustainability, and an Affiliated Faculty member in both the College of Law’s Center for Law and Global Affairs and Center for Law, Science & Innovation, and in ASU’s School of Sustainability.

Mayes said she is thrilled to head the new program.

“I think this is a fantastic opportunity to take sustainability to a new level in Arizona and throughout the country,” Mayes said. “Our hope is that the Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law will be the go-to law school for corporations, governments and non-profits for the implementation and design of sustainability law.”

ASU is a recognized leader in addressing sustainability. The Global Institute of Sustainability advances sustainability initiatives across the university and conducts use-inspired research, while the first-ever School of Sustainability within the Institute offers transdisciplinary degree programs that create practical solutions to environmental, economic and social challenges.

The new Program on Law and Sustainability, believed to be the only one in America connected to a university School of Sustainability, will be housed in the College of Law’s Center for Law, Science & Innovation. ASU also is exploring the idea of creating joint J.D., master’s and Ph.D. programs for students who would like to blend courses from the College of Law and the School of Sustainability.

Gary Marchant, executive director of the College’s Center for Law, Science & Innovation, said the cutting-edge program fits within the university’s commitment to sustainability.

“Law is the driver of how we will implement sustainability, and we must step forward to help create this model,” Marchant said. “The challenge is great because law is very precise, defined, specific, and sustainability is a broad, shifting, somewhat ambiguous concept.”

The concept was explored in April when the College of Law hosted a national summit with 50 top experts - law professors, practicing lawyers, humanities scholars, scientists, representatives of think tanks and non-governmental organizations, policy-makers and business leaders -who discussed the meaning and significance of sustainability and made recommendations about the role of law in promoting a sustainable future.

The group enumerated many specific policy needs including national distribution of wind and solar electricity generation, energy-efficient retrofits, and changes to corporate and tax law to promote sustainability worldwide. It also grappled with broader questions such as how law can help transform social values and practices to achieve sustainability and how legal institutions can be transformed to respond effectively to rapid change.

“One of the fundamental sustainability issues that current laws are ill-suited to address is intergenerational equity – how can the law protect the interest of future generations?” said Sander van der Leeuw, dean of the School of Sustainability. “Kris’ acumen and significant experience in public service make her an exceptional fit to lead this program and accelerate progress at the intersection of law and sustainability.”

Mayes said there is a critical need for a program of this kind.

“Laws, regulations and policies are not changing as fast as the technology,” Mayes said. “We have got to begin to modernize those laws and regulations so that the technologies of the future can be adopted more quickly. We’re starting to do that, but it’s way too slow. If we don’t align those laws and policies with the new energy economy, we’re not going to get where we need to go in a timely fashion.”

Mayes said the issue is particularly acute for utilities and any business engaged in providing energy or water, because the business model is to sell more of their product, not less.

“We need to change that to make sustainability more attractive,” Mayes said. “Right now, the incentives are all wrong.”

The program will include a core curriculum for students in law and sustainability, and will seek projects in which students and faculty will work with utilities, corporations and governments on energy and conservation related projects.

Mayes will teach a class on utility law, focusing on emerging issues like renewable energy and energy efficiency. She said the opportunity allows her to build on the work she did on the Arizona Corporation Commission.

“I never thought I would be a professor,” Mayes said. “It wasn’t on my radar screen, but this is the one thing that could lure me into academia. My biggest objective is to provide something useful both to business and to students.”

Mayes, a Prescott native, attended ASU on the prestigious Flinn scholarship and was editor-in-chief of the State Press, interned in Washington, D.C., for Congressman Bob Stump, and completed an internship with the Johannesburg Star in Johannesburg, South Africa. She won the Truman Scholarship, the nation’s top scholarship for public service, was a national finalist for the Rhodes scholarship and graduated valedictorian from ASU with a degree in political science.

She was a reporter for the Phoenix Gazette, and later for The Arizona Republic, before going to graduate school at Columbia University in New York, where she earned a Master of Public Administration. She returned to The Republic, and covered the 2000 presidential campaigns of Sen. John McCain, former Vice President Dan Quayle, publisher Steve Forbes and then-Governor George W. Bush. During this time, Mayes co-authored a book entitled Spin Priests: Campaign Advisors and the 2000 Race for the White House.

After the presidential campaign, Mayes attended the College of Law and graduated magna cum laude. While in law school, she was press secretary for Janet Napolitano’s campaign for governor in 2001 and served as her Communications Director in 2002-2003. In October, 2003, Napolitano appointed her to fill an open seat on the Corporation Commission. Mayes was elected to the seat in 2004 and re-elected to a four-year term in 2006, and was prohibited by term limits from running again. Her term ends Dec. 31. 

During her time on the Corporation Commission she helped co-author the Arizona Renewable Energy Standard, which requires that by 2025 utilities must generate 15 percent of their overall energy portfolio from renewable sources, like wind solar, biomass, biogas, geothermal and other technologies. The Standard contains the most aggressive distributed generation requirement in the country, requiring utilities by 2011 to acquire 30 percent of their energy from residential or non-utility owned installations, like rooftop solar panels on someone’s home or on a shopping mall.

Mayes also helped establish one of the most ambitious energy efficiency standards in the nation, requiring utilities to sell 22 percent less energy by 2010 than they would have under current forecasts.

Judy Nichols,
Office of Communications, College of Law