President Barack Obama is making climate change a key issue in his second term, but the cost of cutting the nation's carbon footprint is likely to place a heavy burden on average Americans—and the U.S. economy.
Trying to be energy efficient and cutting greenhouse gases might slow the growth of the U.S. gross domestic product anywhere from two to four percentage points each year over the next 10 years due to potential job losses, manufacturing slowdowns and switching energy sources, according to research from the Stern Review on the Economics of Social Change.
That translates to nearly $1,000 a year for every American toward higher energy bills and items like subsidies for solar and wind programs—as well as taxes on gasoline to reduce oil consumption.
"You're taking money out of people's budgets when you put on a gas tax and that could really hurt lower incomes," said Chad Stone, chief economist at the Center on Policy and Budget Priorities.
"Purchasing power would be pulled out of the economy and slow growth down," Stone added.
That burden would be especially difficult when the economy is barely growing 2%-3% now.
"A slow economy is not always the best time to implement something like climate change," said Robert Frank, economics professor at Cornell University's Johnson Graduate School of Management. "You just don't want to hit people with another tax right now." (Read more: If the Weather Outside Is Frightful, Buy Nat Gas: Pro)
"it's best to phase things in like fuel efficient cars so people and businesses have a chance to adjust," Frank argued.
Reports say the president will first try to clamp down on emissions from coal burning power plants through regulations as well as adopt new energy efficiency standards for home appliances and buildings.
This would be on top of what he did in his first term of boosting fuel standards for cars and trucks and billions in federal dollars from the stimulus package for wind and solar energy. Those moves have put the U.S. on track to cut its carbon pollution by as much as 17 percent by 2019, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.
Efforts to pass a gasoline tax to cut down oil usage died in the Senate in 2009. It was part of a cap and trade bill—allowing firms to sell permits on mandated carbon emissions when those firms exceed their allowed emission limit. Neither idea has come up since then.
But the U.S is doing more than enough now to eliminate its carbon footprint, said Bernard Weinstein, a business economist at Southern Methodist University.
"I don't think we need any new initiatives when it comes to climate change," Weinstein said. "We are already substituting cleaner fuels for dirty ones. Utilities are moving away from coal because the price of natural gas is so cheap. When it comes to climate change, the U.S. markets seem to be working."