Like science, sound economics is ignored in developing policy affecting climate change by politicians like President Donald Trump and Gov. Paul LePage.

Not all costs of producing energy from coal and oil are reflected in the price charged by producers to the consumers of that power. The environmental and climate adaptation costs are what economists call external costs because they are costs of production not borne by the producer, but by others like the general public.

If we had a true capitalist market-based economy, a coal-fired electrical plant in Ohio would pay those downwind of their carbon dioxide and mercury emissions, like Maine residents, the costs resulting from the impacts of those emissions. For example, the plant’s owners would compensate Maine fishermen whose livelihood has been hurt by the resulting warming of the Gulf of Maine and its contribution to declining ground fish stocks. That cost would then be passed on to the consumers of that electricity in Ohio.

We don’t have a true market-based economy in the U.S., so instead the fisherman, you and I are subsidizing that coal fired power plant in the form of income losses or incurring higher fish prices, despite not being a user of the electricity generated by that plant. There are numerous other examples of these external costs like the cost of the spread of Lyme disease in Maine. Then there are the increased taxes we will pay for public works projects to accommodate increasingly more intensive storm events, or the huge structures needed to protect our coastal cities from sea level rise. These costs to the US economy will be massive and will increase with time.

If the true costs of producing electrical power from coal and oil are considered in government decision-making, fossil fuel energy would be recognized as more expensive than wind or solar energy.

George Seel