Archive for the 'Environment' Category

In time for Earth Day: How “green” are Colorado’s green schools?

Posted by on Apr 22 2014 | Environment







April 22, 2014

Contact: Mary MacFarlane, 303-279-6536 ext. 102,


How “Green” Are Colorado’s Green Schools?

Think tank study reveals vagueness when measuring energy efficiency

DENVER, Colo – Many Colorado school districts have at least one “green” school that uses more energy per square foot than the best-performing traditional school in the same district, says a new issue paper published by Colorado’s free-market think tank, the Independence Institute.

When looking at the higher construction and operating costs green schools require compared to traditionally built schools, Todd Myers, Environmental Director at the Washington Policy Center, found that in some cases, green schools are using up to 60 percent more energy than the best performing traditional school.

“On Earth Day, many on the Left confuse environmental symbolism with environmental effectiveness. Too many green schools end up increasing environmental damage and the cost is not only paid by taxpayers and students. The environment also loses as we waste resources on policies that look good instead of where we could really make a difference,” said Myers.
The paper, titled “Colorado Green Schools” is available here.

“We’d encourage all Colorado districts to follow Poudre School District’s lead and do a comparison of energy performance versus cost to see if ‘green’ school buildings live up to their promises,” said Amy Oliver Cooke, Energy Policy Center director.

“We aren’t saying that air conditioning and natural lighting don’t promote a better learning environment for students and teachers,” added Cooke. “But labeling creature comforts as cost-saving, energy-efficient ‘green’ building codes is disingenuous to taxpayers and Mother Nature, as the study proves.”

The Independence Institute is a non-partisan, non-profit public policy research organization based in Denver.


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The Denver Post Needs an Intervention

Posted by on Oct 19 2012 | Economics, Economy, energy, Environment, Media, obama, PPC, Taxes

Why is this Billboard now across the street from the Denver Post building?

I don’t want anyone to get the wrong idea, so let me explain. I really miss the days of Denver being a two newspaper town. The Denver Post and the Rocky Mountain News for a century had a competition which gave Coloradans superior news coverage of state and local issues. Those days are gone. The Rocky went under a few years ago and sadly, the Post is a frail shadow of what it once was.

Much of this demise is not the fault of the Post. Younger people don’t buy papers, they get their news for free online. Online classified ads like Craigslist took away the paper’s largest steady income source. The Post is also straddled with crippling debt.

But the Denver Post is still the paper of record for Colorado. And it needs to act like it.

I want to see the Post survive and thrive. The state needs a trusted news source. But just like when a friend needs an intervention, the Post needs to hear the truth no matter how painful.

To the good and extremely overworked people at the Post, we have to tell you that you are failing to cover news. My guess is you know this. We understand your staff has been slashed to a fraction of what it was and how this economy has hurt your industry. But we rely on you for actual reporting, and you are failing to do that job. Rerunning Associated Press stories and writing about gardening tips and Bronco games are fine. However, you have a responsibility to report the news.

When Denver Public Schools changed their evaluation for teachers, judging them on how well they got our children to get involved in “social justice,” there was no news coverage from the Post. 9News did the story. When DPS reversed this politically-driven policy, there was again no coverage. You could read about it in the Washington Times, however.

When it was found that the co-chair of President Obama’s reelection committee, Denver’s former mayor Federico Pena, was a venture capitalist just like Mitt Romney, laying off a thousand workers and closing three domestic factories, there was no coverage. Rush Limbaugh did a better job informing Coloradans about this story than the Post did.

But hiding from the Abound Solar story is beyond excusable.

In our own backyard is Solyndra on steroids, and not a peep from the Denver Post. A politically-connected solar company gets a $400 million guarantee of government loans. And we learn of the Pat Stryker connection from Complete Colorado.

When the firm went belly-up the company execs told a Congressional committee it was because of cheap Chinese competition. But when whistle blowers show that the product was so faulty it would catch fire, it was the Daily Caller that told the story As one worker said – it was a fine product, so long as you didn’t put it in the sun.

When documents were found suggesting Abound falsified its books to secure funding, there was no story in the Post. You had to go to Fox News

When the District Attorney of Weld County opened a full investigation into Abound, you could find the story on Channel 7 but not in the Post.

When the US House Energy and Commerce Committee announced a further investigation into Abound, – now the story made it to Reuters, but not the Post.

We put a billboard across the street from the Denver Post to remind them that they are STILL the paper of record in Colorado. And it’s time they stopped turning a blind eye to news that matters. We want the Post to succeed.

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AUDIO: Women Debate Minivans vs. Smart Cars

Posted by on Oct 15 2012 | energy, Environment, Events, PPC, Regulation

Last week our Energy Policy Center put on the third in a series of women-only energy debates. This one focused on vehicle regulations (like CAFE standards) and was titled, “Minivans vs. Smart Cars.” As always, it was a great output of high powered intellectual forces, with both sides making excellent points and engaging in an entertaining style. If you’re like me and unable to attend these debates because of your testosterone, then don’t worry. Here is the audio file from the debate. ENJOY!

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Georgia-Pacific West v NEDC: a good case for certiorari

Posted by on Jun 20 2012 | Administrative Law, Environment, supreme court, Uncategorized

Court-watchers are wondering if Thursday, June 21, will see the release of Supreme Court rulings on Obamacare or Arizona’s laws against illegal aliens. There’s another important decision that the Court almost certainly make on Thursday: whether to grant certiorari in Georgia-Pacific West v. Northwest Environment Defense Center.  (All the relevant documents are here, on Scotusblog.) Jonathan Adler blogged about it earlier today.

The Georgia-Pacific case involves a complex question of environmental law and regulatory deference, but its economic impact is enormous. In short: the federal Clean Water Act requires that most types of “point source” discharges of pollutants into waters can be allowed if the point source has discharge permit. A classic point source is a sewage discharge pipe from a factory or a municipality, that discharges into a river.

Federal law has separate controls for “non-point source” discharges of pollutants into waters. For example, if pesticides that are sprayed on a golf course run off into a river, that would be a non-point source of water pollution. In practice, most non-point sources involve farming, ranching, forestry and so on. The EPA has particular regulations for run off from such sites.

Now suppose that someone builds a logging road. There road itself is not a “pollution.” in any normal sense of the word. It’s just made of natural dirt and travel. Rainwater falls on the road, and runs off the road. For many roads, some of the rainwater run-off might eventually end up in a ditch or culvert, and the ditch or culvert might lead to a stream or lake. (The ditch or culvert helps reduce erosion.) Is the the ditch or culvert therefore a “point source” that requires a Clean Water Act discharge permit?

The EPA’s answer has always been “no.”  EPA regulations in 1976 said so explicitly. In 1987, the Clean Water Act was amended to require point source permits for stormwater runoff “associated with industrial activity”. CWA section 402(p). In writing regulations to implement the 1987 amendments, the CWA correctly decided the runoff of natural, unpolluted water from logging roads is not covered by section 402(p). One of the reasons that this is correct is that CWA definition of “point source” expressly excludes “agricultural stormwater discharges.”

However, the 9th Circuit’s decision in Georgia-Pacific held the EPA regulations invalid. 640 F.3d 1063. This creates a direct circuit split with the 8th Circuit’s Newton County Wildlife Association v. Rogers, 141 F.3d 803. If the 9th Circuit decision stands, it will essentially shut down logging within the enormous territory of the Circuit. If the 9th Circuit is right, then discharge permits are necessary not only for new roads, but for existing roads–and on private land as well as public land. Obtaining a permit can take years, and the permitting process offers many opportunities for anti-logging activists to monkey wrench and delay. If you wanted to destroy the American timber business, the 9th Circuit’s Georgia-Pacific decision is the perfect tool.

Last December, the Supreme Court asked the Solicitor General for a brief regarding Georgia-Pacific’s cert. petition. The brief agrees with petitioners (and their amici, including the majority of states Attorneys General) that the Ninth Circuit was wrong. However, the SG urged the Court not to take the case, because the EPA says it is writing new regulations which will supposedly fix the problem.

In my view, the Court should grant the petition. First, the Court should determine whether or not the Clean Water Act itself can even plausibly be read to give EPA power over rainwater runoff from logging roads.  This a very important issue for which the nation needs a definite answer.

Second, in order to give the Court time to act, Congress enacted an appropriations rider forbidding enforcement of the new permitting requirement under the Georgia-Pacific theory. (And since EPA can’t issue permits, private plaintiffs cannot sue to compel road owners to either obtain permits or shut down the road.) But the ban expires on September 30. (That the Solicitor General took have a year to file a cert. amicus brief prevented the case from possibly being heard on the merits this spring.) Because of the time necessary for Notice and Comment for EPA rulemaking, the new EPA regulation cannot possibly be operative before the litigation freeze expires.

Besides that, if the 9th Circuit is correct, then EPA “cannot” make the regulatory choice not to require discharge permits for logging roads. Thus, EPA’s new rule will itself the subject of further litigation. As long as the 9th Circuit’s panel decision in Georgia-Pacific remains valid, EPA will have to write a regulation complying with it, and so it seems inevitable that a huge number of logging roads will be requires to get point source discharge permits.

If cert. were granted, then the 9th Circuit (or failing that, the Supreme Court) should issue a stay for enforcement of Georgia-Pacific.

Even without a stay, if the Court granted cert., the grant itself would deter many private lawsuits brought under the Georgia-Pacific theory. If suits were brought, most lower courts would probably decide not to issue preliminary injunctions, and not to let the suits move forward, until the Supreme Court decided the case.

As the amicus briefs for the cert. petition explicate, the damage caused by Georgia-Pacific would be enormous. Although Georgia-Pacific involves issue of Chevron/Auer deference (including the question of whether EPA’s regulation is ambiguous), the more fundamental question is whether Congress, when enacting the Clean Water Act in 1972 (and then amending it in 1987), and setting up an intensive and strict system of permitting for waste pipes from factories, sewage pipes, and other point sources, meant for that very same system to apply to hundreds of thousands of miles of logging roads.  It is implausible to believe that Congress intended to wipe out the timber business, and to destroy the network of hundreds of thousands of logging roads which are used every day by hunters, other outdoor recreationists, farmers, and ranchers. Certainly any proposal in Congress to impose such far-reaching, harmful legislation would have engendered extensive debate.

Congress did not enact such a foolish law, nor did it give EPA the discretion to do so (in whole or in part) by regulation. It is time for the Supreme Court to say so, with finality.

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An Increase from 30% to… 30%???

Posted by on Apr 30 2012 | energy, Environment,, PPC

The Energy Policy Center is really on top of things. For example, last Friday when Amy got wind that 109 days into the 120 day legislative session, a bill was introduced that would fundamentally change the energy policy in Colorado, she sounded the alarm and both wrote a blog post and recorded a podcast on the bill – SB 178.

The bottom line is this: SB 178 changes Colorado’s renewable energy mandate from a purely nominal 30% to a real 30%. Right now, our 30% renewable mandate is really only 24% when you factor in the multiplier, which credits 1.25 for every 1 megawatt of renewable energy provided. What SB 178 will do is get rid of the multiplier, thus creating a 1 for 1 credit scheme and turning our 30% renewable mandate into an actual 30% mandate.

As is typical for big change creating bills that consumers won’t like (see HB 1365), this bill was snuck in through the back door very late into the session. It creates some winners – like Xcel who has more renewable energy credits than it knows what to do with and the eco-crazy Left who wants to save the environment at all costs – and some big time losers – like the smaller investor owned utility companies like Black Hills and let’s not forget, CONSUMERS! Black Hills will have to buy even more renewable energy credits from Xcel to fulfill the larger mandate now and consumers are going to have pay big time for this new increased mandate.

The pro-178 side likes to pretend that increasing the mandate 20% is FREE environmentalism, but obviously, increasing the costs of providing energy to consumers INCREASES THE COST OF ENERGY FOR CONSUMERS! Duh.

For the nitty gritty details, be sure to follow Amy’s coverage over on the Energy blog and check out this podcast.

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Independence Institute Writers In The News

Posted by on Apr 03 2012 | Constitutional Law, Corporate Welfare, energy, Environment, guns, Health Care, health control law, obamacare, PPC, Self-Defense

Stand your ground laws, water rights, health care cost-shifting, the folly of wind energy tax credits and the Medicaid mandates in Obamacare are all topics of recently published opinion works by Independence Institute writers.

In the Washington Times, research director Dave Kopel debunks some of the myths that have sprung up around ‘stand your ground’ laws in the wake of the Trayvon Martin shooting in Florida. Writes Dave: “The assertion that Florida law allows shooting whenever someone believes it to be necessary is a flat-out lie.”

Read the whole thing here.

In the Greeley Tribune, senior fellow in water policy Craig Green explains how a couple of proposed Colorado ballot initiatives “would confiscate the water rights of cities, water districts, farmers, and ranchers.”

Check it out here.

In the Boulder Daily Camera, health care research associate and blogger Brian Schwartz points out the dishonest “cost-shifting” argument made by proponents of government run health care such as the Colorado Trust. Writes Brian: “Don’t be fooled. Mandatory insurance isn’t about personal responsibility or reducing cost-shifting. It’s about using politically-controlled health plans to advance political control of your medical care.”

Whole thing here.

In the Pueblo Chieftain, energy policy center director Amy Oliver and research associate Michael Sandoval make the case against the wind energy tax credit: “We disagree with the majority and wonder why Americans should subsidize Colorado’s green fantasy and a resource that is neither practical nor economically viable.”

Read it all here.

At Health Policy Solutions, constitutional scholar Rob Natelson explains that the Medicaid mandates in Obamacare are unconstitutional, writing: “What few people know is that the Medicaid mandates are, if anything, even more constitutionally dubious than the individual mandate. That’s why Colorado’s Independence Institute has taken the unusual step of filing a brief urging the court to overturn them.”

Whole thing here.

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Get the Truth About Fracking

Posted by on Mar 21 2012 | energy, Environment, PPC

Have you heard the one about hydraulic fracturing (”fracking”) depleting our water supplies? Yeah, I’ve heard that one too. There are a dozen myths out there regarding fracking for every truth you hear. It’s time someone set out to dispel as many as possible. Well, we’ve got just the guy to do it. Donovan Schafer is an Energy Policy Center research associate and an expert on the process of hydro fracturing. The Energy Policy Center is debuting a series which aims to provide the public with the truth about fracking. Here is the first part in the series and it concerns the myth that fracking depletes our water supplies. Stay tuned for the rest of the series over on our Energy Policy Center blog.

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VIDEO: Amy Oliver and Yale King on my Show

Posted by on Mar 07 2012 | energy, Environment, Idiot Box (TV Show), PPC, Taxes

Here’s Amy Oliver on higher education transparency and energy policy (i.e. lots of “green” renewable talk) -

Here’s big time Jeep/GM dealer Yale King on the auto bailouts being a little more about politics than about rescuing an industry -

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It’s Time to Sink or Swim

Posted by on Mar 05 2012 | energy, Environment, Government Largess, PPC, Taxes

Colorado, maybe more so than other states, has bought into the whole renewable energy fantasy, where magic unicorns help maintain massive wind farms (and the wind always blows) and leprechauns sprinkle fairy dust on solar panels (and the sun always shines). The reality is however, as fake as unicorns and leprechauns are, efficient wind and solar production is just as unrealistic. It’s a fantasy we’ve tried to make reality for decades. We have a renewable energy mandate of 30% and a whole slew of “green” energy tax “incentives” to try to force what economic reality will not allow.

In this Pueblo Chieftan op-ed, Amy Oliver and Michael Sandoval make the case that it’s time we end the 20 year old wind tax credit, once and for all. It’s simple arithmetic: the cost of propping up this green fantasy far outweighs any practical benefit. The cost born by us ratepayers is astronomical. The cost born by us taxpayers is astronomical. By all account, energy costs are 30% higher than they should be. All for what? So a few bureaucrats can feel good about themselves? It’s completely insane. That’s why we stand with Sen. Michael Bennet when concerning the wind tax credits he said, “[they] should not go on forever. At a certain point, every business has to sink or swim based on its merits.”

Exactly right. At some point we have to look at the facts of the situation honestly: are we willing to continue to fleece our ratepayers and taxpayers in pursuit of a fantasy that has yet to come true? Who among is mature enough to pull the plug on these programs? We hope someone other than our Energy Policy Center has the courage to stand up for ratepayers and taxpayers. In the slightly altered words of Jimmy McMillan, “The cost of energy here is too damn high!”

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Which Republican Will Crater for Carbon Tax?

Posted by on Feb 08 2012 | energy, Environment, PPC

***This is a MUST READ blog post from Amy Oliver over on our Energy Policy blog. Article re-posted entirely below:

A bill to repeal Colorado’s “phantom carbon tax” was heard today in the Republican-controlled House Agriculture, Livestock, and Natural Resources Committee. It’s the second time in as many years that State Representative Spencer Swalm (R-Centennial) has sponsored the pro-ratepayer legislation. Both times it was heard in the House Ag Committee. Last year, we documented how some Republicans in the committee voted to keep the carbon tax in tact, which is de facto support for the theory of man-made global warming.

The usual suspects, including Xcel Energy, the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE), and the Public Utilities Commission (PUC), lined up against relief for ratepayers this year.

Fortunately for ratepayers, the Independence Institute stood by their side and against corporate welfare. As I stated in my testimony in support of HB 1172:

It’s true that the carbon tax is not a line item on a ratepayer’s bill, but is in included in the modeling of costs for resource acquisition. Costs dictate rates. The higher the costs, the higher the rates. The higher the rates, the more Xcel Energy makes.

The “phantom carbon tax,” as we call it, increases costs and therefore rates. Xcel customers pay Xcel for a tax that doesn’t exist. It is a redistribution of wealth from ratepayers to shareholders. (Full testimony is below)

Conventional political wisdom suggests that most Democrats would support carbon taxes while most Republicans would oppose them, especially in an election year, and that a party-line vote would have moved this bill out of committee. But after close to two hours of testimony, no vote was taken. Vice-Chairman Randy Baumgardner laid over HB 1172 until a later date. Colorado ratepayers will have to wait a little longer to see which lawmakers have the courage to provide relief from needlessly high electric rates.

Two members of the committee were absent from today’s hearing, Republican Chair Jerry Sonnenberg and Democrat Wes McKinley, which didn’t shift the balance of power. The bill still should have moved out of committee on a 6-5 vote, unless someone doesn’t want this bill to go to the floor of the House for an open debate.

So the real question is how will the House Ag Committee vote on HB 1172? Will some Republicans turn their backs on ratepayers and throw their support behind carbon taxes, the theory of man-made global warming, and corporate subsidies as they did last year? And if some do, which ones?

Republicans members of the House Agriculture, Livestock, and Natural Resources Committee:

  • Jerry Sonnenberg, Chair
  • Randy Baumgardner, Vice-Chair
  • J. Paul Brown
  • Don Coram
  • Marsha Looper
  • Ray Scott
  • Glenn Vaad

Democrat members include:

  • Randy Fischer
  • Matt Jones
  • Wes McKinley
  • Su Ryden
  • Edward Vigil
  • Roger Wilson

Any guesses on how the vote will go?

Testimony on behalf of

HB 1172 No Imputed Carbon Tax

February 8, 2012

House Agriculture, Livestock and Natural Resource Committee

Mr. Chairman and Members of the Committee:

My name is Amy Oliver Cooke. I write on and direct the energy policy center for the Independence Institute, 727 E. 16th Ave, Denver, CO 80203

Thank you for allowing me the opportunity to testify today on behalf of HB 1172.

At the Independence Institute, we are agnostic on energy resources. It is our strong belief that the choice of energy resources should come from the demands of the free market, and not from the preferences of policymakers, lobbyists, or special interest groups.

HB 1172 is simple in nature, unless a carbon tax is passed at the federal level, ratepayers should not be disadvantaged financially by paying the phantom carbon tax to an Investor Owned Utility such as Xcel Energy.


We haven’t been able to find any other state that has a carbon tax in statute. Colorado’s is based in HB08-1164, which says the Public Utilities Commission:

may give consideration to the likelihood of new environmental regulation and the risk of higher future costs associated with the emission of greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide when it considers utility proposals to acquire resources.

HB 1172 would change the wording ever so slightly to the PUC

may give consideration to the existence of new environmental regulation and the costs imposed by current federal law or regulation on the emission of greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide when it considers utility proposals to acquire resources.

When the 2008 bill passed, Colorado Conservation Voters explained it HB 1164 this way:

By giving the PUC the ability to use carbon as a value in resource planning decisions, HB 1164 represented the first time that the Colorado General Assembly took a substantive step forwards in giving regulators the tools they need to explicitly address global warming.

Three current members of this committee (Reps. Sonnenberg, Vaad, and Looper)  voted against that bill in 2008. I commend them for doing so. It is a selective, regressive tax – selective on resource (coal) and selective on customers (IOUs such as Xcel Energy), although pass through costs affect almost everyone in the state.

To tax or not to tax?

While it’s prudent for the PUC to consider the risks of Congress passing a cap-and-trade scheme that would put a price on carbon, it is, in equal measure, rash to include the cost of a federal carbon tax in resource planning that covers a time frame in which these costs don’t exist.

To its credit, the PUC staff registered second thoughts about the application of a carbon tax. Alluding to the $20 ton carbon tax during hearings for Xcel’s 2010 renewable energy compliance plan, PUC staff witness William Dalton expressed concern about “including costs that do not exist.”

Even Xcel Energy doesn’t believe that a carbon tax will be passed at the federal level any time soon.

As early as June 2010, Xcel petitioned the PUC for permission to renege on a commitment to build a 250 megawatt solar thermal power plant due to “changed circumstances,” among which the utility cited “the expectation that carbon legislation won’t be enacted for several years,” which would, “erode the economics of solar thermal” [Direct Testimony James F Hill, Xcel Witness, 4 June 2010, Docket 10A-377E]

In the 2012 Renewable Energy Compliance Plan, In Section 7 — Retail Rate Impact and Budget, Xcel acknowledges that I was correct in February 2011 when I testified in front of this committee on HB 1240, there would be no national carbon tax in the near future:

The carbon assumptions approved by the Commission in Docket No. 07A-447E assumed carbon regulation would be enacted in 2010; such regulation was not enacted and the prospects for near term carbon regulation appear to be slim.

Because Xcel assumes there will be no carbon tax in the near future, it presents a cost model that excludes the carbon tax and another model that does include the tax but not until 2014:

Due to the uncertainties related to the timing associated with possible carbon emission regulation, the Company did not include any carbon cost imputations in the model runs and other calculations set forth on Table 7-3. However, as discussed later, Public Service also presents with this Compliance Plan, as Table 7-4, a sensitivity case that assumes the same carbon imputation costs ($20 per ton, escalating at 7% annually) as approved in the 2007 Colorado Resource Plan but on a delayed implementation schedule of 2014.

The cost differences are substantial.

Colorado Legislative Council Staff wrote in the fiscal note for HB 1164, “the bill will not affect state or local revenue or expenditures, and is assessed as having no fiscal impact.” But including a non-existent $20 per ton carbon tax that adds millions of dollars to the cost of otherwise inexpensive fuels such as coal, has an impact on ratepayers. Currently, according to DOE statistics Colorado has the highest electric costs of any neighboring state, second highest in the Rocky Mountain West.


It’s true that the carbon tax is not a line item on a ratepayer’s bill, but is in included in the modeling of costs for resource acquisition. Costs dictate rates. The higher the costs, the higher the rates. The higher the rates, the more Xcel Energy makes. The “phantom carbon tax,” as we call it, increases costs and therefore rates. Xcel customers pay Xcel for a tax that doesn’t exist. It is a redistribution of wealth from ratepayers to shareholders.

If the state legislature wants to tax Coloradans to pay for global warming, they should make their case to voters  — all voters – and not just penalize Xcel Energy ratepayers, who have no other place to go, no recourse.

As I stated at the beginning it is the strong belief of the Independence Institute that the choice of energy resources should come from the demands of the free market, and not from the preferences of policymakers, lobbyists, or special interest groups and we believe that HB 1172 is consistent with that principle.

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