An Associated Press story from yesterday gives props to the grassroots movement against mountaintop removal, a particularly destructive form of mining that involves blowing up Appalachian peaks to get to the coal below.

Datelined Morgantown, W.Va., the article by reporter Vicki Smith observes that "[e]nvironmental activists have gained more momentum this year than in the past decade" against mountaintop removal." It reports among other things that more than 65,000 people e-mailed the Environmental Protection Agency last month with their concerns about the practice.

The anti-MTR movement is also gaining attention in the corridors of power, the AP notes:
"The practice of mountaintop removal mining has a diminishing constituency in Washington," Sen. Robert C. Byrd, D-W.Va., warned last week. "Most members of Congress, like most Americans, oppose the practice."
Byrd made the remark in an opinion piece released Thursday. The AP also reports that West Virginia's other U.S. senator, Democrat Jay Rockefeller, echoed Byrd's thoughts during a conference call held Friday about so-called "clean coal" projects in West Virginia, Texas and Alabama, in which he criticized "some pretty inflammatory statements from the coal industry."

However, the AP also pointed out that anti-MTR activists have yet to mobilize the massive numbers of supporters they want. Vivian Stockman, an organizer with the Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition, said it was difficult to be heard in an "infotainment culture" where "news is dominated by what's going on with Britney Spears' navel or Tiger Woods' private life."

That's one of the reasons why anti-MTR organizers have enlisted the help of celebrities like actress Darryl Hannah, who was arrested this summer during a West Virginia protest, and Robert Kennedy Jr., who's scheduled to appear at a rally today at the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection calling for an end to blasting on Coal River Mountain, a peak that sustainable energy advocates had targeted for a wind farm.

Last month the EPA sent a letter to the Massey Energy subsidiary behind the blasting, saying it appears the company is operating without the required Clean Water Act permit. The rally will demand that the WVDEP heed EPA and also inspect the coal sludge impoundment near the blasting site. Massey has acknowledged that if the impoundment were to break it would unleash a 72-foot wave of sludge that could kill or injure as many as 1,000 people downstream.

Today's action in Charleston, W.Va. comes as world leaders are gathering in Copenhagen, Denmark to hammer out a new global agreement limiting greenhouse gas emissions. Anti-MTR activists are hoping to draw the connection between the environmental destruction of mountaintop removal and the need to convert West Virginia's economy to more sustainable energy sources.

"If we don't start building a clean energy economy and diversifying jobs in West Virginia, what will our children do for jobs in 20 years when the coal runs out?" asks Coal River Mountain Watch organizer Lorelei Scarbro. "If we can save this mountain then we can begin developing sustainable jobs and renewable energy, and we can maybe have an impact on the climate crisis that faces us all."