There has been no shortage of global warming-related stories in the news lately. On Sunday night, An Inconvenient Truth received a Best Feature Documentary Oscar. Yesterday, California's Arnold Schwarzenegger and the governors of four other western states jointly revealed plans to reduce greenhouses gases through a "cap-and-trade" program. And today, The Wall Street Journal announced that the Edison Electric Institute -- whose members generate more than half of all the electricity in the U.S. -- and the American Gas Association had publicly agreed to support some sort of mandatory curb on carbon dioxide.

None of this is particularly surprising; I have written before about how General Electric (NYSE:GE), Alcoa (NYSE:AA), and Duke Energy (NYSE:DUK), among other leading corporations, have recently dropped their opposition to controls on carbon emissions and jumped on this bandwagon. What is new, however, is news buried deep within today's Wall Street Journal, reporting that JPMorgan Chase (NYSE:JPM) will be announcing the creation of a new index of high-grade corporate bonds. Dubbed the "Environmental Index-Carbon Beta," this will offer bond investors a method for measuring energy companies' exposure to toughening global-warming-emission rules.

More succinctly, the index acknowledges that some companies' debt will be a better bet than others, depending on the type of regulations enacted into law. As examples, the article suggests that FPL Group (NYSE:FPL) will receive a higher rating because it has made significant investments in renewable energy, while DTE Energy (NYSE:DTE) will receive a lower rating because it burns a lot of coal.

Congress has not yet passed legislation on carbon emissions, but with no fewer than five different versions of a federal cap-and-trade bill working their ways through Capitol Hill, it's clear that it is only a matter of time before such legislation is passed into law.

I mention all of this because while the index is clearly geared toward bond investors, it could also offer other investors a useful tool for assessing how different companies will fare under whatever new regulatory regime is enacted.

JPMorgan Chase and Duke Energy are Income Investor selections. Discover more great dividend-paying stocks with a free 30-day trial.

Fool contributor Jack Uldrich does not have a stake in any of the companies mentioned in this article. The Fool has a strict disclosure policy.