Tuesday, August 3, 2010

An open letter to Senator Carte Goodwin

Dear Senator Goodwin,

I hope the heat in Washington hasn’t gotten to you yet. It is certainly a different climate than back in the cooler mountains of Appalachia. And of course, congratulations on being named the newest United States Senator from our great state, if only for a couple of months. Please don’t let that short timeline take away from the urgent responsibility that comes with the position. The next few months will be a quick, and tumultuous ride, not unlike braving the first ten miles of the Upper Gauley back home. Hard work, keeping your eye on the path ahead, and working as a team with those in the boat are the keys to surviving the hammering of the river’s class V rapids.

I am writing you because I am very concerned about the economic health of West Virginia. As you are well aware, there are many serious challenges facing our country today, and few of them are felt more acutely anywhere than back in the Mountain State. Job loss, continued poverty, debates on how to fight the climate crisis so we can remain a prosperous country, and our continued military commitment overseas in two large and complex theaters: these are just a few of the questions you will be asked to tackle over the coming months.

I myself have buried a fellow West Virginian, Captain Ben Tiffner, who lost his life fighting in Iraq, after serving there myself. I and many of his fellow officers and soldiers laid him to rest in Arlington National Cemetery in December of 2007. I urge you to go and visit that hallowed ground and walk among the endless graves of our fallen service members. Watch as the members of the Old Guard bury those who have given their last full measure of devotion to our Nation. It is a sobering experience, and one with which every representative should be familiar.

There is no doubt that you are well versed in the struggles of the many out-of-work West Virginians back home. I, and many others, commend you for helping the Senate realize our commitment to them on your first day in the Chamber. But remember there is more yet to be done. Large portions of our economy have been in a long slow decline for decades, providing fewer jobs and less wealth to our people. It will take a clear-eyed vision to see the way forward and bring others behind you.

There is a strong connection between those soldiers who have given their lives, and those who have lost their livelihoods during the Great Recession. Our national security is intimately tied to our economic security, and a forward looking progressive energy and climate policy will provide the means to solve them both. We in the mountains send more than our share of soldiers, sailors, airmen, and Marines off to defend our way of life. We also have a unique and storied history of providing the energy our nation has needed to fuel its unprecedented growth over the past 150 years. But it is no secret that our coal reserves cannot and will not continue to be a source of economic prosperity for our state much longer. The man who sat in your seat before you knew it well. As he wrote in one of his last pieces, “West Virginians can choose to anticipate change and adapt to it, or resist and be overrun by it. One thing is clear. The time has arrived for the people of the Mountain State to think long and hard about which course they want to choose.” We need to take a leadership position in creating the new clean energy economy and harness the best of our past as we prepare to thrive in a dynamic global economy. West Virginia, both today and tomorrow, needs you to support comprehensive energy and climate legislation.

It will certainly be an unpopular vote back home; the coal-dominated media will make sure of that. But it will ensure that the people of the state will have a future. The entrepreneurs who will build the businesses of tomorrow will thank you. Plenty of coal miners will thank you for offering their children a better option than they had. And a generation of soldiers will not have to fight terrorists funded directly by our addiction to oil. This will save American lives overseas, and provide the best defense we have to combat violent extremism around the world: by helping restore a prosperous and opportunity-laden economy.

While attending West Point I learned one fact very well above all else. Life is full of choices, and we are often asked to choose between an easy path and a difficult path. I urge you to choose the harder right over the easier wrong. In ten or fifteen years, you will be able to look back and say to yourself, “I helped create a new thriving clean energy economy in my state.” The other option will be to allow the status quo to continue its slow cancer, eating away at our health, our environment, and our pride.

We need you to lead. Paddle hard, and good luck,

Jon Gensler