The Environmental Protection Agency recently labeled carbon dioxide emissions "a danger to human health and welfare." For the sake of discussion, let's ignore the scientific and public policy debate and focus on the likely consequences that decision will have on your life.

Already, Congress is debating climate change legislation linked to capping the amount of carbon dioxide that can be generated, based on that same theory the EPA espoused. The current call is for an eventual 83% reduction from 2005 levels, though that will be phased in over a long time.

That's going to cost you!
Should such caps be implemented, the first place you'll likely see it is in your electric bill, especially if you live in a community served by coal, oil, or natural gas power. Portland General Electic (NYSE:POR), for instance, warned of rate increases as much as 120% to meet carbon cap targets that may be enforced in Oregon. Similarly, Duke Energy (NYSE:DUK) CEO James Rogers warned that carbon cap and trade could raise the cost of electricity by 40% in parts of the country.

Even if you can afford higher energy costs, not everyone can. As people struggle to pay skyrocketing electric bills, they'll have to cut back elsewhere to make ends meet. Those cutbacks are likely to further damage an economy that's already suffering through a recession that has already lasted around a year and a half.

To make matters worse, anything that gets transported requires energy -- much of it carbon-based. According to the Department of Energy, oil products are being produced at a rate of around 18 million barrels per day in this country.

Although there's some reason to believe that hydrogen fuel cells may someday move vehicles at the equivalent cost of $2.00 per gallon of gasoline, the upfront costs to get there will be huge. For instance, Honda (NYSE:HMC) says that its hydrogen-powered FCX Clarity costs several hundred thousand dollars each to produce. The company is optimistic that mass production can bring those costs down to around $100,000, but that's still quite a price tag for a set of wheels.

As the cost of transportation increases in response to either higher carbon costs or the price tag for the replacement infrastructure, so too will the cost of everything that needs to be transported. Unfortunately, this means that you can reasonably expect that not only will electricity cost more, but so will virtually everything you buy.

Assuming you still have a job, that is ...
In what might be the biggest loss from carbon caps, energy-intensive industries are likely to move production overseas to escape the tremendous increases those caps will have on their costs. Even President Obama's Energy Secretary Steven Chu acknowledged that risk exists, and he's actively calling for carbon controls.

According to an analysis by The Wall Street Journal certain carbon-heavy industries would be most at risk of flight. Some of the ones hardest hit appear in this table:


Example Company

Total Employees


United States Steel (NYSE:X)



Alcoa (NYSE:AA)



International Paper (NYSE:IP)



Eagle Materials



DuPont (NYSE:DD)


Source: Capital IQ, a division of Standard and Poor's.

In total, the fallout will likely go beyond those industries themselves. As their business shift overseas, their suppliers will probably be forced to follow to maintain close operating ties. Plus, any companies that depended on the employees of those industries (like local restaurants near their major manufacturing centers) are likely to feel the pain, too.

Are there any winners?
If there are any businesses that stand to benefit from such a move, though, ocean shippers like A.P. Moller-Maersk might be near the top of the list. After all, to some extent, consumption may remain domestically even as production of those carbon heavy products flees overseas to escape high energy costs. Companies that are able to move those types of goods across the ocean just may be among the only ones to see an increase in their business as a result of any caps.

At the time of publication, Fool contributor Chuck Saletta did not directly own shares of any company mentioned in this article, but his wife owned shares of Duke Energy. The Fool has a disclosure policy.