Obama vs. Coal

With citizens of the Earth increasingly looking to minimize their carbon footprints, the widespread use of coal still has us leaving tracks that could pass for Sasquatch.

Burning the stuff is problematic enough, but in many cases the extraction process itself leaves a footprint that spans mountain valleys. In Appalachia, where surface mines can create dramatic alterations of the landscape in a process known as mountaintop removal, miners of the region's high-quality bituminous coal discovered this week that the Obama administration brings an entirely different regulatory approach from its predecessor.

Even under the Bush administration's famously friendly stance toward the extractive industries, miners began to report an uptick in permitting scrutiny last year. Scores of permits were further delayed by court proceedings that ultimately failed to compel the Army Corps of Engineers to revamp the permit-review process.

Setting a new tone for the Environmental Protection Agency, administrator Lisa Jackson directed the agency to review 150 to 200 permits for new or expanded surface mines. In letters to the Corps, she voiced particular concern with three proposals --  involving miners like Massey Energy (NYSE: MEE  ) and Patriot Coal (NYSE: PCX  ) -- over worries about water quality and the continuity of existing streams.

While I bemoan the environmental vagaries of coal, I continue to view select coal miners objectively as among the most promising investment vehicles within a torturous climate for stocks.

Aside from those named above, Fools might want to take a fresh look at Appalachian miners through this new lens and consider that International Coal Group (NYSE: ICO  ) and Alpha Natural Resources (NYSE: ANR  ) also produce substantial portions of production from surface mines.

With virtually all production from underground mines, conversely, CONSOL Energy (NYSE: CNX  ) appears poised to benefit from the higher prices for Appalachian coal which could result from ongoing permitting delays up on the surface. Although active within Appalachia, Arch Coal (NYSE: ACI  ) enjoys regional diversity with big operations out West that are about to become bigger still. With no exposure to Appalachia, Peabody Energy (NYSE: BTU  ) continues to top my list of favorites, with CONSOL Energy running a close second.

Further Foolishness:

The "Coal" tag within the Motley Fool CAPS community lists 21 coal companies. Find out what other investors are saying about the stocks you're watching, or share your Foolish thoughts with us. CAPS is free and fun!

Fool contributor Christopher Barker wishes he could squeeze coal into diamonds. He can be found blogging actively and acting Foolishly within the CAPS community under the username TMFSinchiruna. He owns shares of Arch Coal, Massey Energy, and Peabody Energy. The Motley Fool scrubs its disclosure policy before releasing it into the atmosphere.


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  • Report this Comment On March 27, 2009, at 9:49 AM, TexasLonghorns wrote:

    Well until Obama, The Golden One" can figure out how to power this country, he is going to have to ease off coal or go to natural gas. There is no solution 10 years out from today. We either burn coal or natural gas, or we will really see this economy go even further into the tank!

  • Report this Comment On March 27, 2009, at 2:54 PM, Brettze wrote:

    Just simply because there is no such firewood stocks, we allow firewood peddlers to sell firewood and help contribute to the global warming... Oh there is one exception.. who owns Duraflame, yuck!! it smells like petrol soaked firewood!!

    I dont think people are as concerned about global climate as who owns what stocks that gunk up the climate.. if there is no shaerholders , fine, burn it... and pollute the air... if you own shares, they will be against your stocks.. only Mom and Pop business are exempt??

  • Report this Comment On March 27, 2009, at 2:55 PM, Brettze wrote:

    Just simply because there is no such firewood stocks, we allow firewood peddlers to sell firewood and help contribute to the global warming... Oh there is one exception.. who owns Duraflame, yuck!! it smells like petrol soaked firewood!!

    I dont think people are as concerned about global climate as who owns what stocks that gunk up the climate.. if there is no shaerholders , fine, burn it... and pollute the air... if you own shares, they will be against your stocks.. only Mom and Pop business are exempt??

  • Report this Comment On March 27, 2009, at 2:59 PM, Brettze wrote:

    Come to think of that... there is possibly as much smog coming from firewood in any big city as smog coming from local coal fired powerplants for that city... Sure, many of us burn firewood...

    We are not exactly cowboys and Indians squatting by campfires , arent we?? You see stacks of firewood in supermarkets and hardware stores... We burn a godawful lot of firewood.. If you go up iun the mountains, you will run into local stores with tons of firewood on display out in the front.. Thick of them... People burn a lot of firewood in America and around the world. yet we are not doing anything about firewood and its associated air pollution and climate change!! arent we? why so lenient on firewood whiule going hard on coal?? Coal fired powerplants invests billions in pollution controls only to end up being scolded for the last damn air pollutant, anmely carbon dioxide...

    Remember acid rain?? we eliminate them.. now firewood is the last one that still causes acid rain, isnt it??? fish is breathing a bit easier but they still need more help...

  • Report this Comment On March 27, 2009, at 3:00 PM, Brettze wrote:

    We are too easy on firewood peddlers because we feel that they need to earn a little money on the side... despite the awful pollution !!!really awful!!!

  • Report this Comment On March 27, 2009, at 3:02 PM, Brettze wrote:

    People burn firewood, sometimes little idiots see the fire and toss in junk and garbage to see what happen... They dont do it in water heaters, gas furnaces... Open fireplaces or wood stoves is tempting to toss in toxic junk and spews toxic fumes out the chimneys and stove pipes.. Ugh!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  • Report this Comment On March 27, 2009, at 3:02 PM, Brettze wrote:

    People burn firewood, sometimes little idiots see the fire and toss in junk and garbage to see what happen... They dont do it in water heaters, gas furnaces... Open fireplaces or wood stoves is tempting to toss in toxic junk and spews toxic fumes out the chimneys and stove pipes.. Ugh!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  • Report this Comment On March 27, 2009, at 3:03 PM, Brettze wrote:

    Sometimes brothers toss in Barbie dolls in spite of his sisters ...

  • Report this Comment On March 27, 2009, at 3:04 PM, Brettze wrote:

    Sisters toss in plastic model cars to even it up!!

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