Joint Rule 10: What happened to our priorities?

Prepared by Jess Nahigian, Sierra Club Massachusetts State Political Director
With support from Veena Dharmaraj, Celeste Venolia, Alan Gordon, Clint Richmond 

It’s that time of year when people in Eastern Massachusetts still hold hope that climate change hasn’t completely dashed all prospects of a real snowfall, and legislators realize that after a year of meeting, they have to show some of their work. Enter a deadline known as Joint Rule 10, the first Wednesday in February, by which nearly all joint committees must take action on all bills filed at the beginning of the session, even if the action is just to extend the deadline. Committees can report bills out favorably, unfavorably, send them to study (therefore losing all hope of passing this year), or extend a bill’s deadline.

Last Wednesday, February 7, was Joint Rule 10, which gave us the first real glimpse into the State Legislature’s opinion on the environmental and climate justice movement’s priorities. The results? A mixed bag.

Let’s quickly acknowledge that eking out this small piece of information should not be as important as it is. We do not know how members of these joint committees vote on bills. And even though bills can be reported out of a committee at any time, in Massachusetts, committees often wait until the last minute to make their reports. Even then, some committees extend the deadline by months for individual bills. This compresses the later steps of the legislative process into several short months, which encourages an opaque process full of backroom deals and horse trading.

The results of Wednesday emphasize how non-linear and consequential the next part of the process will be. Nothing has passed yet and it’s not over till it’s over. The outcomes of all our bills still hinge on our actions over the course of the next 4.5 months.

Here’s what happened to different parts of our agenda:

Energy - Transportation - Toxics - Forest Protection


The Telecommunications, Utilities, and Energy Committee issued reports on Senate bills and House bills separately. House bills were combined into 5 mini omnibus (aggregated) bills, focusing on a variety of topics. The Senate reported around 26 bills out favorably. All other bills in the committee received a deadline extension. So what happens next? The process is unclear but here are the different moves that the legislature can make. A reminder that some of these are not exclusive to each other - different bills may take different paths. We won’t know for sure how this will play out until the final votes are taken. The important thing is that all bills are still in play.

What the House could do next: 

  • The House Ways and Means can send some or all of the bills reported favorably by the House forward for a vote by the full House
  • The House Ways and Means can combine all or some of the favorable House bills into one large bill and send it to a vote by the full House
  • Once a bill passes the House, it is sent to the Senate.

What the Senate could do: 

  • The Senate Ways and Means can send some or all of the bills reported favorably forward for a vote by the full Senate.
  • The Senate Ways and Means can combine all or some of the reported bills and move them forward for a vote by the full Senate.
  • The Senate chair of the Joint Committee on Telecommunications, Utilities, and Energy could insert new language into a bill passed by the House. This language could be totally new or could be some version of the language found in bills reported favorably by or extended by the Senate.
  • Once any bills come to the Senate floor for a vote, there will be an opportunity for Senate members to submit amendments, to be voted on by the whole chamber.

How differences can be reconciled between what the House and Senate pass:

  • If a bill is passed by the House, moved to the Senate, and then amended in any way before being passed by the Senate, the bill will head to a “conference committee.” The committee will be charged with reconciling the differences between the bills. Any language can be inserted or removed while the bill is in conference committee.
  • After differences are reconciled, the bill is sent to the House for a vote, a Senate for a vote, and the governor for a signature.

PHEW! Ok, so how did our bills do?

Our solar on disturbed lands bill (S.2150 / H.3225) aimed to align state solar incentives in a way that prioritized solar on disturbed lands and buildings. The main mechanism for this was through changing net metering, although the bill made other changes as well. The other changes suggested were incorporated into the mini House omnibus H.3216, but the main idea of changing net metering was not. In the House and Senate, the official bill received an extension.

The moratorium/halt on large new gas infrastructure projects bill (S.2135 / H.3237) sought to halt permitting projects over a certain size and prevent gas from being brought into new towns. While the Senate bill was reported favorably, the House omnibus bills don’t address the issue of permitting gas infrastructure at all. One of the House omnibus bills includes language “clarifying” that gas companies could only expand into new towns if their expansion did not increase greenhouse gas emissions. This language is, at best, meaningless. At worst this means gas companies would be allowed to expand into towns where their intent is to transition oil heating to gas thus lowering greenhouse gas emissions. Another point of contest in gas expansion is whether hydrogen and renewable natural gas are climate friendly, viable options for our pipe system. This partly depends on how their costs and greenhouse gas emissions are calculated. The utilities claim they are net negative emitters, though careful scrutiny of the science has left environmental advocates and the current Department of Public Utilities (DPU) to disagree with this accounting. In its 20-80 order, the DPU rightly indicated that these false solutions are only being used to justify maintaining our expensive pipe system and business as usual. An industry-friendly DPU could reverse that order, and with it, could agree that these gasses do not increase emissions, rendering this language useless. This change does not halt gas expansion the way we need it to.

A Zero Carbon Renovation Fund (S.2365 / H.3232) would allocate $300 million for zero-carbon renovations in existing buildings like affordable housing and public schools, and in environmental justice communities. Because the fund is a monetary proposal, its concept is moving forward in other avenues, including the Housing Bond Bill. While the bill received an extension, it is unlikely to move forward through the Telecommunications, Utilities, and Energy Committee.

Siting Reform
When siting energy infrastructure, we must ensure proper consultation of environmental justice communities and avoid additional burdens to communities that are already disproportionately burdened. Our supported siting reform bill (S.2113 / H.3187) was put forth by the environmental justice table. The Chair of the House committee, Chair Roy, proposed a bill of his own. See what advocates were looking for in Chair Roy’s redrafted bill here. Chair Roy released a redrafted version of his bill, which included changes indicating he is beginning to think about environmental justice. While this redraft is a start, it’s important that siting reform include adequate time for communities to participate, standards for adequate consultation with communities, and decision-making/outcomes tied to environmental justice analysis in the form of a cumulative impact analysis.

For summaries of other energy-related bills released by the House and Senate, see this table, under “bill summaries MPF allies care about”


Our commuter rail bill (S.2217 / H.3392) set phased targets for the different commuter rail lines to be all-electric by 2035 and established line-specific service frequency requirements.  Electrification will allow the MBTA to run faster and more reliable trains and reduce toxic diesel pollution all along the route. The Senate and House versions of the bill were both reported out favorably by the Transportation Committee. This bill has a good chance of being incorporated into the climate omnibus bill expected this session.

The fleets bill (S.2218H.3139) requires all publicly-owned and leased vehicle and school bus fleets to be electric by 2035 and prioritizes electrification in locations serving environmental justice populations. The Senate bill was reported out favorably and the House bill received an extension until April 7. This bill is unlikely to move forward in its entirety this session. However, the demand and interest in electric school buses and the availability of federal and state funding puts us in a good position to continue advocating for electric school buses in the climate bill this session. 

Our RTA fleet electrification bill (S.2285 / H.3366) sets interim targets for all new vehicle purchases at RTAs to be electric and requires MassDOT to create a central planning office to provide technical, funding, and procurement support to RTAs during this transition. Both the Senate and House bills were sent to study, which means that there is no likelihood of this bill moving ahead this session. 

Three additional transportation bills that we are supporting received an extension by both the Senate and the House. This includes:

  • The RTA advancement bill (S.2277 / H.3272) that will increase the funding floor for RTAs to support service improvements
  • Bills (S.2213 and S.2291 / H.3288) that call for the MBTA to promote fare equity across commuter rail stations in the Boston area. 

Last week, the House TUE Committee also released 5 mini climate bills. One of those bills (H.3218) includes several provisions related to electric vehicle charging infrastructure. The bill requires DOER and MassDOT in consultation with utilities and other stakeholders to forecast electric vehicle charging demand through 2045 and identify sites to create a statewide charging network. The bill also includes a statewide right to charge provision, extends use of RGGI funds for the MOR-EV program through the end of FY '27, and requires municipalities to  create an expedited and streamlined permitting process for EV charging stations. 

While the 5 mini climate bills released by the House TUE Committee did not include our transportation priorities, the path for our priority transportation legislation is far from over. There will be several opportunities to influence what provisions get added to a final climate bill as it makes its way through the House, Senate, and conference committee over the next few months. 


An Act To Reduce Plastics (S.570) was favorably reported to Senate Ways and Means accompanied by several other plastics bills. This bill would require retail establishments to not provide a customer with a carryout bag unless the carryout bag is a recycled paper bag or a reusable bag. Food establishments would not be able to provide disposable food service ware unless it is biodegradable or compostable.

An Act to restrict the use of polystyrene (H.3627) was favorably reported.

Two bills were reported favorably out of committee:

  • An Act establishing an ecologically-based mosquito management program in the Commonwealth to protect public health (S.445)
  • An Act protecting pollinators by eliminating harmful products (S.479), which addresses Neonicotinoid pesticides. 

Two home rule petitions prohibiting the use of Second Generation Anti-Coagulant Rodenticides (SGARs) were sent to the legislature this session. 

  • The Newton home rule petition  (S.2448) was reported favorably out of Committee.
  • The Arlington home rule petition (H.804) reporting date was extended to Friday April 12, 2024.

An Act empowering towns and cities to protect residents and the environment from harmful pesticides (H.814) in the House was extended to Friday April 12, 2024. We don’t yet have an update on the Senate version.

A redrafted version of An Act protecting our soil and farms from PFAS contamination (S.39 / H.101) was favorably reported to the House Ways and Means Committee.

An Act relative to the reduction of certain toxic chemicals in firefighter personal protective equipment (H.2339) had its reporting date extended to Monday April 8, 2024.


The Municipal Reforestation Act (S.452 / H.869) was reported favorably out of the Joint Committee on Environment and Natural Resources. It faces the same challenge as the last legislative session in Ways and Means about where the funding will come from; we hope they realize the importance of making the investment in supporting a broader strategy of reforestation sooner rather than later. Two bills related to protection of state forest lands received extensions (H.4150 and H.904), so there is still benefit to further advocating for them to get a favorable report.