Public officials swear an oath to protect the people they serve. But what happens when your officials make decisions that put your health, home, or life at risk?
UPDATE (March 30, 2015 11:00 AM Eastern): According to 9-year old Madison Mae and her mother, who both attended Governor Tom Wolf’s inauguration on January 20, 2015, Wolf told Madison he’d visit her to see her water, which has changed since unconventional oil ans gas drilling started. Public Herald’s Day 133 is Madison’s Day 70 of not hearing back from the Governor. (Title altered from “Day 113: What To Do When Elected Officials Ignore You”)
UPDATE (March 31, 11:12 AM Eastern): Governor Wolf originally agreed to meet and talk with Madison Mae about her water but did not offer to visit as previously written. Madison intends to remind the Governor of his offer by writing him a letter.
Mission: Protect The Public Interest
Investigative journalists empower the public with fearless storytelling where assaults on justice and democracy occur. But what happens when their findings are ignored?
On December 18th, 2015, I started an online petition to get an interview with Governor Wolf regarding Public Herald’s investigations of the impacts from fracking and the harms being unfairly levied upon citizens across Pennsylvania. My first request to talk to Wolf was made long before I started the petition in December, right before the national tour of Public Herald’s investigative documentary Triple Divide in the summer of 2014.
Neither Wolf nor anyone from his staff has returned my phone calls or emails. It’s now Day 113 since the petition and about two weeks since my last phone call. The last I heard was that “the governor’s office is aware” of my request.
“But why wouldn’t the governor want to talk to you, Melissa,” people ask, people who voted for Wolf and have faith in his promises to be a governor they can trust.
I can only speculate, but my guess is that it has something to do with what I want to talk with him about: fracking. And I also have a feeling that’s why he hasn’t replied to resident Dorene Dougherty. On Day 35 (January 31, 2015) I published an editorial about Dorene, who sent Wolf a package of documents outlining her appeal of a fracking permit issued by the state for an industrial operation near her rural home. Because of her illness, toxic encephalopathy, fracking could mean the end of Dorene’s life.
Today, I sent Governor Wolf the following letter via U.S. Certified Mail, once again requesting an on-camera interview. I included a request for comment about Dorene’s case in particular and enclosed the package Dorene originally sent to Wolf in May 2014.
Certified Letter to Wolf (Text)
In five years of reporting about this issue, one thing is distinctly clear. For those who are harmed, there is little to no help from public officials. Some public servants go as far as denying impacts exist at all, despite evidence, and even sabotaging residents’ attempts to simply get information.
Dozens of new fracking permits are issued to oil and gas operators across the state every month. After ten years of Marcellus Shale horizontal, high-volume fracking in Pennsylvania, there are still no cumulative health or environmental studies by the state despite mounting documentation of impacts.
So what happens when your elected officials are making decisions that put your health, home or your life at risk? Perhaps nothing, or perhaps something amazing.
If you’re like Grant Township or Highland Township, you rebel by writing a Community Bill of Rights and defending your right to a clean, peaceful community in court. Because of fracking, State College, Pa. will go “down in history as the first community in the United States to enact a Community Bill of Rights by popular vote,” a Bill of Rights they successfully defended at public meetings and in the streets.
If you’re like Mars Parent Group, you stand up, attend meetings and educate the public when your local officials open land up for fracking near schools. Or like Smithfield Township residents, you might appeal a permit issued by the state to allow fracking companies to store toxic waste in your community.
And if you’re like Public Herald, you’ll tenaciously protect and share the truth, persisting with questions that elected officials would rather ignore.
What happens to those being harmed by fracking also depends on you, the public, and what you do once you know the truth.