Front Porch Blog

100 Miles Behind Us!

Deep in the hollows of WV, something miraculous is happening…

If we fail as parents, we have failed as Americans – Bo Webb

Grandfather Ed Wiley is no traditional environmentalist, child rights advocate, or political activist. His history and his heritage run deep into the coal encrusted veins of the Appalachian Mountains.

Ed Wiley has never fought sludge impoundments. He has built them.

He has never boycotted coal. He has extracted it.

He worked in processing plants just like the one less than a football field from Marsh Fork Elementary School, in Sundial, WV – full of enormous clanging machinery, explosive gases, and chemically treated coal dust.

He helped build the 2.8 billion gallon sludge impoundment directly above Marsh Fork Elementary School where his 11-year old granddaughter goes to school and is poisoned everyday by those same chemicals.

Now this man is spending his retirement walking 455 miles over 40 days and nights in the heat of summer!


Ed attributes his “wake-up” to his 11-year-old granddaughter Kayla, who attends Marsh Fork Elementary. After having to pick up the perfectly healthy and enthused child from school three days in a row, color-drained from her skin, Ed asked Kayla (who he affectionately calls “Possum”) what was going on.

He puts it as follows.

Kayla had tears running down her face. She said “Gramps, these coal mines are making us kids sick.

The day this child had tears in her eyes, that’s when I woke up.

-Ed Wiley

WELCOME TO MARSH FORK ELEMENTARY (small building with lawn, lower left.) If that man-made dam broke (and its had NUMEROUS violations) those children would have 17 seconds to live.

Behind the dam there is 2.8 billion gallons of toxic sludge.
Behind that theres a 1849 acre Mountaintop Removal site that’s growing in size and waste output.

These children deserve a new, safe, local place to learn!

The runoff from the site flows into the sludge dam. The Mine Safety and Health Administration has cited the dam repeatedly for violations in its construction and maintenance. In 2000, a sludge dam in Kentucky, operated by the same company, released over 300 million gallons of sludge in what the EPA called the worst environmental disaster in the Southeast. The spill was nearly 30 times the volume of the Exxon Valdez oil tanker spill.

These children deserve a new, safe, local place to learn!

There is a coal silo less than 300 feet from Marsh Fork Elementary School. The silo houses tons and tons of toxic chemically treated coal dust. Ever heard of black lung disease? Well, nowadays you don’t have to go into the coal mines to breathe coal dust and get black lung disease. You just have to go to class.

A survey was performed on 60 households with kids at the school.

Of those 60 households…

88% had children who were commonly ill

Of those houses with a commonly ill child

91% had kids with regular respiratory problems

According to Ed Wiley, “15-20 kids leave each day” because they are sick from the coal dust they are inhaling.

These children deserve a new, safe, local place to learn!

For over TWO YEARS the children of this community have been insulted, ignored, and brushed aside by big coal interests and the government of West Virginia!

Now, Grandfather Ed Wiley is taking a radical step. He is taking the voice of the people of the West Virginia Coal Fields straight on out of the hollow, straight on out of the county, on passed the West Virginia border, and all the way to Washington, DC!

The conventional wisdom in WV is that people CAN’T make a difference…and thats where we come in.

Ed needs your support!

Today, he passed 100 miles. There is no dobut that the man is in fit enough physical shape to finish the walk well ahead of his exhausted teenage support team. SCREW CHUCK NORRIS! Here’s a real American hero.

The trip has been an amazing success,
Pennies of Promise has a short video of Ed talking about the trip,

as well as coverage of Day 1 of the walk, and a newly created second videoof the trip.

So, how did it get to be this way? So that grandfathers were walking 100s of miles to raise awareness because the state was ignoring the fact that coal poisoning their kids and grandkids?

I think of the modern American fixation on oil as a similar situation. Democratic Senators Byrd and Rockerfeller of West Virginia are good on almost everything, but remain deep in the pockets of the coal companies. Local and state officials are the same way. Coal Company “X” can poor millions and millions of dollars into a race for school board if they have to.

West Virginia, because of its geographic makeup (mountains and “hollows”) is also very difficult to organize. Some of the most amazing labor battles in American history – such as The Battle of Blair Mountain – took place in the coal fields of Southern West Virginia. The Battle of Blair Mountain remains the largest post civil war battle in American history. Needless to say, the unionizing miners lost at Blair Mountain to a federal militia, and the only bombs America has ever dropped on its own soil out of airplanes.

Over 200 years of company towns, violence, union-busting, and exploitation by the coal companies, the people of West Virginia expect nothing else but the shit end of the stick time and time again. And that’s what they get! 51-54% of America’s electric energy comes from coal, and yet the coalfield counties are some of the poorest counties in the United States of America.

Ed worked on these sites. He has cleaned up spills. He has pumped sludge around the impoundment to relieve pressure on the violation stricken dam. And now…he has to spend his retirement WALKING ACROSS AMERICA SO THAT HIS GRANDAUGHTER ISNT POISONED AT SCHOOL?!?! MY grandfather would be HUMILIATED if he had to do something like that!!!

And yet – heres Ed, carrying an 8×4 ft flag and standind out like a flower in a desert…

“If we do not stand up and take part of whats happening in our Appalachian mountains we all are going to suffer from this.” – Ed Wiley

Support Ed and Pennies of Promise, and join Appalachian Voices in following his footsteps on this journey. Its for the children.





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