Being a Good Samaritan

The United States suffers from a problem of drug overdose from illegal substances, whether it be underage drinking or the use of heroin. According to the National Institute of Drug Abuse (NIDA), between 2001 and 2014, deaths due to cocaine overdose increased by 42%. In 2014, death due to heroin exceeded 10,000. Rose Rudd, Noah Aleshire, and several other authors from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), described the United States as “experiencing an epidemic of drug overdose (poisoning) deaths. Since 2000, the rate of deaths from drug overdoses has increased 137%”. Furthermore, the National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH) reported that out of the 94,200 respondents (all under the age of 21), 15.9% self-reported that they had engaged in binge drinking in the last 30 days.

These numbers are staggering. Why has there been such a sharp increase in overdose deaths recently? How can so many underage individuals be getting their hands on alcoholic beverages? While there are many hypothesis to answer these questions and a proven answer may never be known, that does not mean that there aren’t ways to combat these numbers.

The War on Drugs has a long history in the United States from the institution of prohibition in 1920 to Nixon coining the term “War on Drugs” and declaring it in 1974. Yet, even with this long fight against drug use, we still see drug use climbing, and we unfortunately see overdoses increasing as well. So perhaps tighter prohibition would not be the solution to this overdose dilemma, but ending prohibition (meaning legalizing cocaine, heroin, etc.) does not yet seem to be an option a wide majority of Americans are willing to accept, making it a politically infeasible goal for now. According to a Huffington Post/YouGov poll, only 11% of the thousand respondents wanted to legalize cocaine, 9% supported legalizing heroin, and 8% supported legalizing methamphetamines.

With this in mind, the current best and most feasible solution to decreasing the current drug overdose problem in the United States is to push for reform in good samaritan laws. Good samaritan laws comes in a lot of different variations such as freeing medical professionals or private citizens from liability if they try to help someone that is in immediate danger. However, this could go further to protect those in danger of overdose. With reform, people that call emergency services or seek medical attention for someone in danger of an overdose (or alcohol poisoning in the context of underage drinking) should be immune to any kind of criminal or civil punishments in the context of the event. For example, if there are teenagers that are drinking underage and one is suspected of being in danger of alcohol poisoning, the other participants should be immune to any kind of punishments should they call 911 to assist their friend. This could also be said about those that are using illicit substances. Furthermore, this law needs to be upheld unflinchingly and be well known in order for it to serve its purpose.

The strongest counter-argument for this proposal, and one that is quite common among prohibitionists, is that this could encourage drug use. If people know that they could use drugs and get out of a situation safely if an overdose were to occur, this fact would incentivize people to use illicit drugs.

Even if this were true, the main purpose of this law is not to decrease drug use, but to decrease deaths due to drug overdose, which is the problem we are facing in the United States. Furthermore, some states, municipalities, and universities have already instituted similar ideas of good samaritan laws. According to Students for Sensible Drug Policy, Cornell University Instituted this form of good samaritan ruling in 2006, and not only found that there was a major increase in emergency calls, but that there was also a fairly constant rate of alcohol use on campus. Several states have also instituted good samaritan laws, like North Carolina, which is specifically for underage drinking, and California, which institutes this kind of reform fully, and neither of these states has seen a drastic increase of use after this kind of reform.

According to the Drug Policy Alliance, the #1 cited reason for people not calling 911 in the case of an overdose is the fear of criminal punishment. Since this is the case, it is clear that the only feasible way of alleviating death due to overdose is to ensure immunity of punishment through medical amnesty.

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Nuclear Energy: Why Does Colorado Have None?

With the first nuclear reactor, Tennessee Valley Authority’s Bar Unit 2, being connected to the grid on June 3rd since 1996, nuclear energy may be making a comeback. According to the Colorado Department of Natural Resources in 2006, the US produced more than 60% of the world’s nuclear energy production with 103 nuclear reactors, all of which were created before 1996. Compared with all other forms of energy sources (fossil fuels and renewables), nuclear energy sources makes up 20% of electricity generation in the United States.

With Colorado ranked 6th in natural gas production and 7th in total energy production, it would be expected that Colorado would be one of the leaders in nuclear energy production, especially with it being emission-free in production. However, Colorado falls completely flat on this expectation, as it currently does not have any nuclear power plants. Colorado is one of twenty states that does not have a nuclear power plant.

This hasn’t always been the case. Colorado use to have a nuclear power plant, named Fort St. Vrain, near Platteville, Colorado which was built by General Atomics Company and owned by the Public Service Company. The station began construction in 1968, and started generating electricity for the grid in 1976. The station was an early prototype of a high temperature, gas cooled reactor (HTGR). It was the first commercial reactor for electricity to use this gas cooling method, and one of four early HTGRs that used a thorium fuel cycle. All four that used this method have been shut down. According to Tony Kindelspire, writer for the Boulder Daily Camera, “problems plagued the plant from the start.” The plant was shut down in 1989, and has since been made into a natural gas plant.

So why doesn’t Colorado have a nuclear power plant now? In the United States, nuclear power is regulated by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC), but under the Agreement State Program, which Colorado is one of them, the NRC will relinquish portions of its regulatory jurisdictions to the state. However, a lot of regulatory power is still retained by the NRC. According to the National Conference of State Legislators, Colorado is not one of fifteen states that has regulations or laws against nuclear energy development or production. So it must not be regulatory barriers holding back Colorado’s nuclear potential.

This must mean it is just not economically feasible to create such energy in Colorado. Perhaps it is that the market currently does not favor this kind of production naturally, and energy producers should look elsewhere for energy production.

Nuclear power plants are actually pretty expensive to build. According to the Union of Concerned Scientists, costs rose from 2002 to 2008 from between $2-$4 billion to around $9 billion. However, the cost for the new Bar Unit 2 reactor was at $4.9 billion, and expects to add 1,150 megawatts to its grid. Compare this to the Rush Creek Wind Farm proposed to be built in eastern Colorado which costs $1 billion dollars, plus an additional $443 million accumulated from taxpayers from Production Tax Credits (PTC), and can only produce 600 megawatts if winds were blowing at exactly the correct speeds for 24 hours a day.

While the power plants might be quite expensive to build, the use of nuclear power plants to generate power is relatively cheap. According to the Nuclear Energy Institute, “in 2015, the average total generating cost for nuclear energy was $35.50 per megawatt-hour.” Furthermore, if the plant had more generating units per plant the price could get considerably lower. Compare this to wind energy, which has a generating cost around $40 per megawatt-hour, nuclear energy has cheaper generating costs.

Below is a graph provided by Energy Information Administration comparing the generating cost of different energy sources. Take note that the numbers represented are millions per kilowatt-hour, the hydro-electric category consists of both conventional hydroelectric and pumping storage, and the gas-turbine section is a conglomeration of gas turbines, internal combustion, wind, and photovoltaic. The cost is a total of fuel cost, operation cost, and maintenance cost. The full graph can be found here.

EIATotalGeneration cost

 

If it is the case that nuclear energy is simply too expensive to be a feasible method of producing electricity then so be it. However, it is evident that markets in Colorado are currently unfairly favoring wind and solar energy through subsidies and tax credits. Thus making it unclear if nuclear energy is truly unfavorable in the current market or is just being crowed out by government intrusions on the market. Perhaps skewed markets are the reason we do not see any nuclear power in Colorado. It is a question worth addressing.

In Response to “A Prosperous and Cleaner Future…” by Lynne Kiesling

If I were to describe Lynne Kiesling’s publication “A Prosperous and Cleaner Future: Markets, Innovation, and Electricity Distribution in the 21st Century” as anything, it would be that she is the Friedrich Hayek of energy policy. This paper methodically, and almost poetically, describes a major issue facing the energy and environmental policy world today: archaic design, a design that was put in place during the 19th century Progressive Era which put regulators “as agents, custodians, and stewards of ratepayer resources” (Kiesling 2015).

However, putting regulators in a dynamic and ever-changing market as custodians gives rise to what Austrian economist Friedrich Hayek describes as “The Knowledge Problem” in his 1945 essay “The Use of Knowledge in Society,” in which he says:

The peculiar character of the problem of a rational economic order is determined precisely by the fact that the knowledge of the circumstances of which we must make use never exists in concentrated or integrated form but solely as the dispersed bits of incomplete and frequently contradictory knowledge which all the separate individuals possess. The economic problem of society is thus not merely a problem of how to allocate “given” resources—if “given” is taken to mean given to a single mind which deliberately solves the problem set by these “data.” It is rather a problem of how to secure the best use of resources known to any of the members of society, for ends whose relative importance only these individuals know. (Hayek 1945).

Politicians and regulators are generally the butt of many party jokes as being incompetent and foolish, however this is a misunderstanding of why regulators stifle markets and innovation. Energy regulators will make bad decisions on what is best for the energy market or the environment not exactly because they don’t know what is best, but because they can’t know what is best.  The same could be said about a CEO of an energy company. Lynne Kiesling explains this idea by saying “[i]n dynamic markets with diffuse private knowledge, neither entrepreneurs nor policy makers can know a priori which goods and services will succeed with consumers and at what prices.”

Thus, it is not the free market assertion that private sector forces know better than public sector forces, per se. However at first glance, it seems that a solution in energy and environmentalism problems can never be found if no one actually knows enough to solve it.  This is not the free market assertion either. Instead it is that a free market is the quickest trial-and-error process for determining solutions based on the dispersed knowledge of private sector actors, which is determined through prices and profit. This is the crown-jewel of competition, which is absent in today’s energy market because of government sanctioned monopolies. Public sector action is simply too slow to enact this trial-and-error method, nor would they be able to determine what is and isn’t successful quite like consumers and the market can. Furthermore public sector forces are too slow to keep up with the innovation of today’s market, which is illustrated by Kiesling through the emergence of new technology like smart-grids, nuclear energy, and combined-cycle gas turbines. Kiesling as a result concludes that our regulation methods are inherently far too static for the dynamic market and technology we see today:

Many of the assumptions of this regulatory model are increasingly untrue in our modern society. The assumption of a single production technology with a declining long-run average curve has long been incorrect, as shown by the smaller-scale combined-cycle gas turbine (CCGT) innovations in the 1980s and the ensuing unbundling of generation from the vertically integrated firm and the liberalization of wholesale energy markets in restructured states in the U.S. This assumption is becoming even more problematic in the face of recent innovations in smaller-scale generation technologies, including natural gas, renewables, and even small modular nuclear power. (Kiesling 2015).

If Kiesling and Hayek are correct, it is clear that a feasible solution to problems we face today in energy and the environment, which are increasingly complicated topics, is the free market, and not an expansion of archaic regulation methods.