Big users of coal are pushing Congress to pass a version of President Barack Obama’s plan to combat global warming. It seems counter-intuitive, but it could wind up helping the coal industry and exchange traded funds (ETFs). Alcoa (AA) executives and other big coal users actually say that Obama’s plan could help the environment and boost their profits at the same time. One official told the House that they could help restore growth and give the means for America to be a leader on low-carbon technology, reports Jim Tankersley for The Chicago Tribune.

It’s a trend we’re already seeing in other industries, such as health care and pharmaceuticals. The big corporations and players realize that some government action is likely, so by participating early on, they could wind up doing better at decision time.

Alcoa’s aluminum operations in the United States generated 23 million metric tons of greenhouse gases in 2007. Obama wants to put in place a cap-and-trade program, which could add up to $460 million a year in annual operating costs.

One benefit to these companies is that many of them have already reduced their emissions, so that if they reached a point where they had surplus permits, they could sell them and raise money to help pay for clean technologies.

Aside from cleaner air and fewer emissions, Alcoa sees another benefit for its business: if there were a greater push for cleaner air, demand for lighter cars and more efficient buildings would skyrocket and boost the aluminum market.

Coal and coal-using companies are working to shore up votes on Capitol Hill and find compromises to Obama’s plan.

  • Market Vectors Coal (KOL): up 35.9% year-to-date

  • PowerShares Global Coal (PKOL): up 42% year-to-date

The opinions and forecasts expressed herein are solely those of Tom Lydon, and may not actually come to pass. Information on this site should not be used or construed as an offer to sell, a solicitation of an offer to buy, or a recommendation for any product.