August 5th Roundup: The House passed a climate bill…now what?

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– House passes climate bill in late-night Friday session: Over two days last week (7/30), House lawmakers unveiled and then debated amendments on a 55-page climate change bill (H.4933). Based in part on the 2050 Roadmap bill filed by sophomore Rep Meschino and bills filed by Rep Golden, the House climate bill was a response to the ‘Next-Gen Climate’ package the Senate passed in January 2020. The final House climate bill (H.4933) includes the roadmap bill language (i.e. a net-zero emissions target by 2050), grid modernization, changes to solar net metering, offshore wind procurements, and municipal light plants emissions targets, among other provisions.

The House bill now goes before a conference committee [more on this below], to work out final bill details before being sent to the Governor. [For a play-by-play breakdown of the House bill’s passage check out this updates tracker compiled by the CXC Roundup.]

– Climate bills awaiting appointment of conference committee members: With a conference-able climate bill having now passed each chamber, it will be up to six lawmakers (4 Democrat & 2 GOP, evenly split between House & Senate members) to negotiate and agree on a final bill to send to the Governor’s desk. As of publication (8/5), neither chamber has appointed their respective members, although this is expected to occur during an informal session on Thursday (8/6).

It’s likely that Senator Barrett and Representative Golden, the co-chairs of the Joint Energy Committee and the primary drafters of each chamber’s respective bills, will be appointed to the committee. Which other Democrat members will be appointed is less certain, although top contenders include Sen Pacheco (Senate Climate Committee chair), Rep Haddad (Speaker Pro Tempore & on last year’s energy conference committee), Rep Meschino (original author of the 2050 Roadmap bill), Rep Dykema (Joint Energy Committee vice-chair), or possibly even Rep Pignatelli (Joint Environment Committee chair, the committee where the House Roadmap bill originated). Who is appointed is effectively determined by President Spilka and Speaker Deleo, respectively. The remaining two GOP members will be appointed on the recommendation of the minority leaders of each chamber

– Getting a 2020 climate law passed will require compromise: comparing the Senate & House climate proposals: Members of the forthcoming climate conference committee have their work cut out for them as they negotiate a compromise between the House (H.4933) and Senate (S.2500) climate bills. There are some overlapping priorities, found largely in both versions, that include:

    • Reset of the state’s emissions goal to net-zero by 2050. State law currently requires an 80% reduction by 2050. It’s worth noting that Governor Baker is more or less already implementing a net-zero by 2050 target, using existing authority.
    • Repeal a sunset provision in the state’s original emissions reductions law that if left unchanged would undermine the setting & enforcement (by regulation) of any emissions targets.
    • The Energy SAVE Act (aka. the ‘appliance efficiency bill’). Although not technically in S.2500, it was included within the larger ‘Next Gen Climate’ package (as S.2499) and would likely be considered by this conference committee.
    • New reporting requirements that would outline how the administration is working to benefit low-income residents through climate policy.
    • Consideration of nature-based solutions when developing policy options for reducing emissions.
    • Increase in the total amount of offshore wind authorized by the state. The House boosted it to 3,600 MW, while the Senate included an increase of 2,800 MW in the economic development bill (such a change may still be considered by the conference committee).

Even among these similarities, there are disagreements on exact wording and enforcement that need to be worked out. For example, the Senate requires reporting on emissions reductions progress every 5 years, while the House only requires it every 10 years.

Additionally, there are many programs, mandates, and provisions included in one bill, but not the other. For example, aspects passed as part of the Senate package, but not the House one, include: 

    • New emissions limits set by sector (e.g. transportation, industrial, etc), that track to state-wide emissions reductions.
    • Creating a Climate Policy Commission, an independent, watchdog agency that doesn’t create climate policy but ensures the administration is implementing it.
    • Reforms the DPU, requires it to consider emissions in its decisions and require climate plans from gas & electric utilities.
    • Requires economy-wide carbon pricing (set by the Governor) in Massachusetts by 2030.
    • Directs the state to establish a program for towns/cities to adopt ‘energy stretch codes‘ that would require new construction to have net-zero emissions.
    • Reforms the BBRS by adding seats for energy efficiency professionals, among other changes.
    • Establishes a ‘low-income solar program’ and a ‘workforce development & job training program for displaced workers.’

Some aspects of the House bill that are not in the Senate bill include:

    • An update to the state’s definition of environmental justice, along with new siting approval requirements that benefit EJ communities.
    • Grid modernization, including the creation of a ‘future utility grid commission.’
    • New requirements for energy efficiency in affordable housing.
    • Creation of a ‘clean energy workforce equity task force as part of MassCEC.
    • Changes to the state’s net metering laws, and those that establish the SMART solar program. [Some solar developers have pushed back on these changes citing that they may ‘chill’ development and hurt solar job creation]. It also creates a ‘land use commission’ for evaluating solar development’s impact on conservation, and slightly changes the state’s renewable portfolio standard.
    • Creates new emissions requirements for municipal light plants.
    • Requires a feasibility study on electrifying Cape and Islands ferries.
    • New requirements around natural gas safety.

Negotiators on both sides are likely to make concessions to achieve a final bill. This happened with the 2018 energy bill when Senate negotiators dropped much of their omnibus energy bill while the House dropped their bid to include appliance efficiency standards in the final bill. This session, the House bill is a lot less ambitious than the Senate one, as it doesn’t establish new systems for setting and enforcing climate policy whereas the Senate bill does. This may leave the Senate in a more difficult initial negotiating position. Although the inclusion of EJ language and multiple modifications to solar policy (found only in the House bill) may help to even tables slightly. Also, how much attention is given to the conference committee, by the public as well as climate advocates, will further shape the final outcome of the bill. If lawmakers aren’t feeling the pressure to include things like new EJ definitions or carbon pricing, then the conference committee may not prioritize their inclusion in the final bill.

Negotiators technically have until the end of the current legislative session (January 5th, 2021) to come up with a final bill, and send it to the Governor. Yet, Senate and House leadership may be more inclined to have it finished earlier in the fall, so they have time to override any potential veto.

– “Advocates Celebrate As Legislature Gets One Step Closer To Passing Environmental Justice Law” (Miriam Wasser, WBUR’s Earthwhile): [read the article]

– “House votes to increase offshore wind power purchasing” (Colin A. Young & Chris Van Buskirk, SHNS via 22 WWLP): [read the article]

– “House bill calls for electric ferry study” (Brian Dowd, MV Times): [read the article]

– “Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker signs 3-month budget, sends back provisions that would keep funding levels at or above 2020” (Steph Solis, MassLive): [read the article]

– Smith College Professor: more needed to cut emissions by 2030: A white paper published this week (8/3) by Smith College Professor Alex Barron and a team of student researchers (led by Lucy Metz) seeks to draw attention to additional actions, beyond those considered on Beacon Hill now, needed to adequately address climate change. It finds that: “If enacted, S.2500 [the Senate’s Next-Gen climate bill] would give the state important new tools that would significantly reduce emissions. However, our analysis suggests that additional policies beyond those in S.2500 will likely be necessary to reliably achieve the 2030 goal of cutting emissions in half from 1990 levels.”

In a statement to the Roundup, Barron said, “The big challenge, as detailed in the attached paper, is that even the most aggressive stringency modeled for TCI doesn’t bring down the largest sector (transportation) that much (it’s hard to do fast) and, critically in our minds, the stringency of electricity sector policy in MA has not kept pace with leading states like NY and VA. We believe the 2030 target is achievable technologically and economically, but it will require getting specific, ambitious policies in place as soon as possible.” Professor Barron outlines his white paper further in a Medium post that you can find in the below LOCAL IDEAS section of the Roundup.


– “Massachusetts sees shared microgrids as way to boost resilience, cut emissions” (Sarah Shemkus, Energy News Network): [read the article]


– “Massachusetts is about to set a tough new climate goal — we need ambitious policy in place fast to get there” by Professor Alex Barron, via Medium.

– “Lessons learned from the push for climate action” by Craig Altemose, via Commonwealth Magazine.

– “A cleaner economy must be a priority as we rebuild Mass.” by Scott Graves, via the Boston Business Journal. [$]


 – Mixed reactions from advocates & activists on passage of House climate bill: With the passage of a House bill, came a collective sigh of relief from groups and individuals pushing for a climate bill this session. With its passage, the House averted (for now at least) the very real possibility of no climate change bill making it into law this session. Yet, among advocates and activists pushing for clean energy and climate action, reactions to the House bill were decidedly mixed.

Some, including the Environmental League of Massachusetts applauded the House for passing a bill, saying in a release, “This legislation positions the Commonwealth on a strategic and tactical path toward carbon neutrality by 2050… to meet our ambitious long-term goals, we need the interim targets, data-driven plan, and accountability mechanisms that this bill provides.” Similarly, Northeast Clean Energy Council Jeremy McDiarmid said to SHNS, “the House took a big step forward on climate policy today in passing this bill. Advancements in environmental justice, offshore wind and appliance standards are to be commended.” Agreeing, the co-chairs of the House Progressive Caucus added saying the bill was, “another critical step, of many to come. We are committed to continuing this fight, and doing what is necessary to meet the goals established in this bill.”

Others didn’t hold back criticism of the House bill, and its use of the underlying roadmap bill. Environment Massachusetts’ Ben Hellerstein said in a statement, “today, representatives missed their chance to put Massachusetts on track to 100% renewable energy when they passed H.4912, an ultimately flawed bill.” He continues by saying the bill “allows the burning of fossil fuels to continue for decades, and it postpones necessary action in favor of studies and ‘roadmaps.’”

Mass Power Forward, a progressive climate coalition which actively organized amendments to the House bill, characterized it in a statement, saying: “House rushes through weak climate omnibus bill at 11th hour.” Community Action Works’ Claire Miller, an MPF leader, also added: “It really feels like our legislative process is deeply broken. How can we possibly do what is right for public health, climate justice and workers with only five hours to react to an omnibus bill being released and then voted on two days later?” Mass Climate Action Network’s Sarah Dooling added saying, “Speaker DeLeo and Chairman Golden’s climate legislation lacks the vision… [to achieve] a fossil-fuel free future”. Sierra Club’s Jacob Stern, also an MPF leader struck a balanced tone saying: “This bill is a small step in the right direction…. [But] as a millennial, I find it unacceptable that Massachusetts will reach 100% renewable electricity the same year I turn 100 years old.”

Even groups generally supportive of the bill have their reservations. With NECEC’s Jeremy McDiarmid adding, “There were some setbacks on solar tax policy that we expect the conference committee will resolve.”


– “Exxon Seeking Dismissal of Massachusetts AG’s Climate Lawsuit” (Erik Larson, Bloomberg Green): [read the article]


– “The Climate Crisis will Worsen Flood Impacts, and Increase U.S. Racial Disparities” (Martha Merrow, Climate XChange): [read the article]


– “SCPN Spotlight: Shelly Zhao on the importance of Student Activism” (Noa Dalzell, Climate XChange): [read the article]


– “New program aims to sub in clean power during peak energy periods” (Colin A. Young, SHNS via 22 WWLP): [read the article]

– “In Massachusetts, more houses of worship are turning to solar power” (Sarah Shemkus, Energy News Network): [read the article]


– “Ohio Energy Scandal Emblematic of a Larger National Crisis” (Noa Dalzell, Climate XChange): [read the article]

– “Opponents debate merits of Maine hydro project” (Bruce Mohl, Commonwealth Magazine): [read the article]


– “Federal judge dismisses the Trump administration’s attempt to end the Western Climate Initiative” (Carlie Clarcq, Climate XChange): [read the article]


Missed the last CXC Roundup? Here are the top three climate headlines from last week:

  1. Amendments, amendments everywhere!
  2. House advances climate bill, with debate & voting happening today
  3. ICYMI: Economic Development bill’s “Green Recovery” amendment hints at next session policy push:

Read the full Roundup here from July 30th, 2020 here.

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Featured Image: Christian Morris, Climate XChange