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From coal to clean energy: an Iraq war veteran's next fight

Coal mining is scarring West Virginia. Climate change is intensifying the national security threat. One Iraq war vet explains why US energy policy must change.

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As a captain in the Army, I was used to seeing the blasted, wasted landscapes of unfamiliar countries. From the window of a plane or the door of a helicopter, they were a familiar sight, the last high-level view before descending into a nasty fight. 

I expected such images of destruction in Iraq and Afghanistan. But not in West Virginia

Yet the ugly reality of mountaintop removal coal mining is what greeted me on my return home after a year-long tour in Iraq. Seeing the land I fought to protect being abused in such reckless fashion hit me in the gut, hard. It took years to recover my motivation to continue to fight for what I believe in back home. 

Appalachian families are facing serious decisions about their future, and these decisions are intimately linked with America’s future. 

Our energy policy is limiting our global competitiveness, hurting our national security, and destroying our heritage of wild, natural beauty. We need comprehensive energy and climate legislation to ensure our  way of life this century. 

These national priorities are acute in my home state. Demand for southern West Virginian coal is expected to drop by half over the next decade, yet our political and business leadership refuse to take a serious look at how we can replace the jobs that will be lost. 

To maintain a relevant position in the energy economy, West Virginia must look beyond our short horizon of trying to fill up the next train load, and think about what will happen if we don’t push harder for economic diversification. The 30-plus years of decline we have experienced will merely accelerate. As the world moves on to cleaner energy sources, we will be left behind with a wounded land, a wounded people, and wounded pride, battle scars from a lost war. 

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