Paying Too Much for Energy? The True Costs of Our Energy Choices

Michael Greenstone and Adam Looney

February 2012

Energy consumption is critical to economic growth and quality of life. America’s energy system, however, is malfunctioning. The status quo is characterized by a tilted playing field, where energy choices are based on the visible costs that appear on utility bills and at gas pumps. This system masks the “external” costs arising from those energy choices, including shorter lives, higher health care expenses, a changing climate, and weakened national security. As a result, we pay unnecessarily high costs for energy. New “rules of the road” could level the energy playing field. Drawing from our work for The Hamilton Project, this paper offers four principles for reforming U.S. energy policies in order to increase Americans’ well-being.

Keywords: costs of alternative energy, energy externalities, health costs of energy, private costs of energy, reforming energy policy, social costs of energy.

JEL Classification: I18, Q42, Q48, Q51, Q53, Q54