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Climate Stumbling Blocks: Zombie Energy Laws, States, and the Path to Paris

August 2021

Citation: ELR 10697

Author: Jessica R. Bell and Hampden T. Macbeth

With the dawn of the Joseph Biden Administration, there is renewed optimism that the United States will take steps to fulfill its responsibilities under the Paris Agreement and curb greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. Electrification is a big step on this path, and the nation needs a cleaner, more resilient grid to support this reduced emissions future. But as University of Chicago Law Prof. Joshua C. Macey details in his article, Zombie Energy Laws, efforts to support mass electrification and decarbonization face a major stumbling block: zombies. In particular, zombie energy laws—“statutes, regulations, and judicial precedents that continue to apply after their underlying economic and legal bases dissipate”—undermine incorporation of more clean energy resources into the electricity grid and harm consumers in the process. This Comment highlights the progress states have made and are poised to continue making in reducing GHG emissions from the power sector; discusses two of the zombie energy laws identified in Macey’s article and identifies other proposed fixes; and explores two additional zombie laws that may impede clean energy progress.

Jessica R. Bell is the Deputy Director at NYU School of Law’s State Energy & Environmental Impact Center. Hampden T. Macbeth is a Staff Attorney at NYU School of Law’s State Energy & Environmental Impact Center.

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