Bluefield Daily Telegraph

BLUEFIELD — Bob Pruett is a friend of coal. Unfortunately, not everyone feels the same, and that worries the former Marshall football coach.  
“Right now the coal industry is under attack, it really is, it is under attack,” said Pruett, who served as the guest speaker for the Bluefield Rotary Club on Tuesday at the Holiday Inn. “I am not a political person, I’m really not, I’m not running for office. 
“I don’t have any share in any coal company, but what I do know is what I see on television. You watch Fox News and they’ve declared war on coal.” 
According to Pruett, who is part of the Friends of Coal organization which works with the West Virginia Coal Association to promote the use of coal across the nation, ‘they’ are the current presidential administration, which is talking of legislation like cap-and-trade and additional taxes that could penalize companies for continuing to use coal.  
Pruett added that 99 percent of all electricity in West Virginia is furnished by coal, but that government restrictions could force coal companies to convert to natural gas, which is cheaper to produce than coal.  
“Right now the economy is not where it is supposed to be, but (coal companies) are also under attack because they’re being threatened by the administration,” Pruett said. “They’re going to be taxed if they don’t stop burning coal.” 
After noting layoffs in the coal industry this week that will result in the loss of more than 600 jobs, Pruett asked the attentive audience if they remembered when the coal industry has struggled in the past. Pruett recounted the 1950s when his coal miner father was laid off and wound up as an elementary school custodian in Beckley.  
“Anybody remember that, what was it like? It wasn’t good, was it? That’s right here right now,” Pruett said. “I don’t understand all the legislation that is going on up there, but cap and trade is really something that is bad for the coal industry.” 
Since retiring from Marshall in 2004, and outside of a year spent last season as an assistant at the University of Virginia, Pruett has stayed involved with Friends of Coal — often working with former West Virginia coach Don Neyland — and he warns of dire consequences if coal doesn’t continue to play a significant role in the state.  
“I’m going to tell you now, if the coal industry fails in this state, we’re in deep trouble, your business is in trouble,” said Pruett, who said the coal companies had a good year in 2008, but ‘we’re going backwards’ now, adding that the price of coal has dropped 65 percent in the past year. “You may not think so, but your businesses are in deep trouble.” 
Pruett urges residents to get involved and contact their elected officials to fight any legislation that could hurt the state’s most important natural resource.  
“All I am saying is we just need to pay attention and talk to our politicians, right or wrong or indifferent, and make sure they understand what we want,” Pruett said. “I guarantee what is good for coal right now is good for us because right now our livelihood and our economy depends on it. 
“What’s good for us is good for West Virginia and that’s us... 
“It is what it is, and if it is what it is, we’ve got to stand up and make a shout for it. We’ve got to make sure the people that we’ve elected to go represent us understand the importance of it to us.”