Commodities & Metals

Coal Stocks Pummeled by EPA Clean Air Rules

When the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) published its Clean Power Plan on Monday, the agency focused on a 32% cut from 2005 levels of U.S. carbon emissions by 2030. Power generation plants produce 31% of all U.S. carbon dioxide emissions, so a reduction of 32% promises to reduce total U.S. emissions by close to 10%.

As always with government regulations, there are winners and losers. The solar and wind energy associations are delighted; the coal industry, not so much.

Investors hammered coal stocks Tuesday as a result of the new rules, plus a downgrade at Deutsche Bank from Hold to Sell on CONSOL Energy Inc. (NYSE: CNX) and a new price target of $14, down from a prior target of $27. Monday, Alpha Natural Resources filed for bankruptcy, and Cloud Peak Energy Inc. (NYSE: CLD) posted weak earnings Tuesday morning.

In one more sour note, Arch Coal Inc. (NYSE: ACI) effected a reverse one-for-10 stock split Monday evening. The action was approved by shareholders in April.

The president and CEO of the American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity had this comment on the EPA’s Clean Power Plan:

Even in the face of damning analyses and scathing opposition from across the country, EPA’s final carbon rule reveals what we’ve said for months — this agency is pursuing an illegal plan that will drive up electricity costs and put people out of work. This rule fails across the board, but most troubling is that it fails the millions of families and businesses who rely on affordable electricity to help them keep food on the table and the lights on.

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The cost issue was seconded by the Partnership for Affordable Clean Energy:

While this rule will do nothing to affect the agency’s climate indicators, it holds the strong potential to raise electricity prices, cost American jobs, endanger reliability, and make our nation less competitive. … Now, with the final rule made public, we can be even more sure that EPA has presented the American public with a lousy bargain. It is critical that our nation’s leaders, particularly the President and the Congress, intervene to limit the damage from this bad rule.

And the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association piled on:

Any increase in the cost of electricity most dramatically impacts those who can least afford it, and the fallout from the EPA’s rule will cascade across the nation for years to come.

While cost is a real concern, the issue is who gets to be the bad guy by sending customers bigger monthly bills? Burning coal emits about twice the carbon as burning natural gas. If power plants are forced to burn cleaner fuels or add equipment to scrub emissions, they will wear the black hats because their bills to customers must increase to cover their upgrade or construction costs.

According to the EPA, the Clean Power Plan will result in climate benefits worth $20 billion, health benefits valued between $14 billion and $34 billion, and net benefits of $26 billion to $45 billion. The plan is also projected to avoid 3,600 premature deaths every year, 1,700 heart attacks, 90,000 asthma attacks and 300,000 missed work or school days. Clean energy definitely gets to wear the white hats.

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Coal company stocks were down anywhere from 2% to 10% shortly after Tuesday’s lunch hour. Cloud Peak traded down about 10% to $2.62, after earlier posting a new 52-week low of $2.58. CONSOL traded down about 7.7% at $14.08, after posting a new 52-week low of $14.03.

Arch Coal’s shares closed at $0.18 on Monday and opened Tuesday morning at $1.60 after the reverse split. Shares traded down about 9.5% at $1.63 in the early afternoon.

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