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The Indy Issue from Friday March 12, 2021

 

 

Visions of the Development of Salem

By Kevin Zorn

An oil on canvas mural is displayed in the post office in Salem, West Virginia. It was painted by an artist named Berni Glasgow and its production was funded
through the Treasury Department’s Section of Painting and Sculpture. It is titled “Visions of the Development of Salem” and depicts a group of people
receiving mail, in the background is a village and cattle.

 

Berni Glasgow was one of more than 800 artists commissioned to paint 1371 murals, the majority of which are featured in post offices.
Often mistaken as a Works Progress Administration (WPA) initiative, these Treasury funded murals were created with the intent of fostering i
nspiration in the American people who were still feeling the devastating economic and social effects of the Great Depression.

 

It is a testament to the shift in the ideological landscape today that I cannot believe the US Government, in tandem with local governments,
was capable of doing what the WPA accomplished. Yet, here are just some of the facts: from 1935 to 1943 8.5 million unemployed men and
women were hired by the government to build over 10,000 bridges, 620,000 miles of streets and roads, 40,000 new and 85,000 renovated
buildings including thousands of schools, gymnasiums, auditoriums, playgrounds, parks, libraries, college dormitories, tennis courts, and skating rinks.

 

The WPA employed artists, writers, historians, and musicians whose work directly affected the lives of millions of Americans during some of the
country’s most painful years. Musicians hired under the Federal Music Project taught free lessons to 132,000 children and adults every week.
Those hired in the Federal Writers’ Project, in addition to their popular state tourism guidebooks, recorded over 2,300 slave narratives -
an invaluable collection for scholars and historians. Under the Federal Theatre Project 1,000 plays were performed across the country every month.
Incalculable is the number of children and adults inspired by this work.

 

Through the colossal endeavors of the WPA in both its pre-war effort and its public projects America achieved full employment by 1942,
the same year “Visions” was painted in Salem.

 

It is clear that the America many of us grew up in, the structures that supported our lives, the parks we enjoyed, the schools we attended,
the infrastructure we relied upon for travel, even the art classes that inspired the next generation of creators was largely built under the
auspices of the WPA and the New Deal.

 

This is a salient reminder that capital “H” History is not simply a collection of memorized facts and figures, dates and obscure names.
No, History is alive in the communities in which we live. It not only teaches us, it haunts us as well. It haunts us with what was
possible before and what is possible tomorrow.

 

Perhaps that is the greatest battle waged in the spectacle of media and politics today - the question of what is possible.
Our expectations are managed lower and lower. We learn that the climate crisis is inevitable, that homelesness is natural,
that workers are essential until they ask for a living wage. All to say that change is impossible. Visions of better futures recede from view.

But history haunts us with an alternative. By the time Berni Glasgow painted the mural in the Salem post office, the American
government had provided millions of meaningful jobs improving, with concrete and paintbrushes, nearly every community across the nation.

 

Nick Taylor, the author of “American Made: The Enduring Legacy of the WPA”, writes this: 

 

“These ordinary men and women proved to be extraordinary beyond all expectation.
They were golden threads woven in the national fabric. In this, they shamed the political philosophy
that discounted their value and rewarded the one that placed its faith in them,
thus fulfilling the founding vision of a government by and for its people. All its people.” 

 

This weeks front page:

 

 

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A decision by a federal bankruptcy court in Kentucky this week gives regulators a strong hand in enforcing environmental laws against bankrupt coal companies. As part of Thursday’s decision, the court awarded the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection more than $2.7 million to address reclamation of an abandoned coal mine in Fayette County.

 

Bailey & Glasser attorneys Kevin Barrett and Mike Hissam represented the DEP in pursuing claims from the bankruptcy estate of Appalachian Fuels LLC. The claims consisted of environmental penalties, as well as the costs of ongoing reclamation and water treatment at the abandoned site. The case went to trial in bankruptcy court in Louisville in June 2014. After a three-day trial, the bankruptcy court issued a lengthy opinion Thursday granting DEP’s administrative expense application in full.

The bankruptcy court held that Appalachian Fuels had to perform the reclamation obligations of its subsidiary which held the permits, given that Appalachian Fuels had always performed the mining and reclamation obligations at the mine site. The bankruptcy court also held that DEP’s claims were entitled to “administrative expense priority,” despite the fact that DEP had not incurred any reclamation costs while the bankruptcy case was pending and would not incur significant reclamation costs until

years later. In accordance with the decision the court granted the DEP an administrative claim totaling more than $2.7 million, including up to $1.9 million in reclamation and water treatment costs and over $700,000 in penalties.

 

“With the rise of significant coal company bankruptcy cases in the past two years, and with others on the horizon in a tough coal market, the decision imposes broader corporate responsibility for environmental legacy liabilities,” said Kevin Barrett, a bankruptcy attorney at Bailey & Glasser’s New York office. “It also makes it clear that the responsibility to remediate environmental issues does not end upon the commencement of a bankruptcy case and, indeed, may give rise to significant priority claims that a coal company must satisfy as a condition to reorganizing in chapter 11. The combination gives federal and state environmental regulators a stronger hand in coal company cases.” DEP Secretary Randy Huff man praised the decision as an important victory for state environmental regulators, stating, “The court’s decision clarifies the authority of the states to enforce environmental regulations regardless of bankruptcy. It also warns operators that the protections afforded by the bankruptcy process do not provide an avenue to shirk reclamation responsibilities. Protecting the environment and remediating former surface mine sites is one of our highest priorities.”