Mountain States

350 Colorado Refuses to Believe Reason for CU Boulder Researcher’s Firing

A prominent “Keep It In The Ground” activist group is demanding more information about the firing of former University of Colorado Boulder researcher Detlev Helmig, refusing to believe the university’s reasons for his dismissal.

Helmig was fired earlier this month after it was determined that he was improperly using public funded research for his personal business, despite pledging he would keep the two separated.

The Boulder Daily Camera reported:

“‘… CU Boulder and Dr. Helmig worked to clearly separate the work performed and resources used by this commercial enterprise from the work and resources of the university,’ [CU Boulder Spokeswoman Melanie Marquez] Parra said in an email. ‘This is exceedingly important for the university as the university and its employees are stewards of research dollars from multiple sources. The university determined, after careful review and consideration, that the separation of work and resources was not being maintained and a separation of the university from Dr. Helmig and his commercial enterprise was required.’” (emphasis added)

As Energy In Depth noted after his dismissal, Helmig’s taxpayer-funded research at CU Boulder included publishing flawed studies that targeted the oil and natural gas industry. He was also widely quoted by Colorado media and his work has been cited by government officials and activists.

Yet, one of those activist groups, 350 Colorado, is upset about Helmig’s firing because it believes the university isn’t telling the truth about the situation and has filed a Colorado Open Records Act (CORA) request in response. The group’s press release stated:

“350 Colorado is requesting information leading to the abrupt termination by CU of renowned air pollution researcher and Associate Professor, Detlev Helmig, Ph.D. Legitimate questions and concerns that Dr. Helmig’s termination may have been spurred by interested parties outside of the University system must be resolved in the public interest.”

“Dr. Helmig was an Associate Research Professor and Research Scientist at the Institute of Alpine and Arctic Research (INSTAAR) at CU when his employment was terminated, allegedly because resources and research for the University were not adequately separated from that of private clients. 350 Colorado hopes that the information it seeks through the CORA request will allay its concerns that Dr. Helmig’s termination may have been sought by the oil and gas industry.” (emphasis added)

Although there isn’t anything “allegedly” about it. CU Boulder made it clear that Helmig had violated his agreement with the university, which was the reason for his dismissal.

Additionally, Denver Westword, an alt-newsmagazine whose anti-industry coverage borders on activism, covered 350 Colorado’s CORA request, calling Helmig’s firing a “mystery,” and like the activist group, hinted the state’s oil and national gas industry played a role in this.

But that same CU Boulder official who explained the reason for Helmig’s firing also completely rejected that notion, as Westword’s own story reported:

“CU Boulder, however, denies that pressure from oil and gas groups led to Helmig’s departure. ‘As world leaders in this type of research, we remain dedicated to and fully supportive of the type of research that Dr. Helmig conducts,’ Parra says. ‘The decision to part ways was not driven by anyone or any entity placing pressure on the university.’”

Helmig’s firing was met with more off-base skepticism from Senate Majority Leader Steve Fenberg and Boulder County Commissioner Elise Jones, two of the biggest oil and natural gas opponents in the state. Fenberg has introduced legislation aimed at the industry that was informed by conversations he had with Helmig about his research. Jones has filed a climate lawsuit against ExxonMobil and Suncor.

In an op-ed published by the Boulder Daily Camera, they wrote that Helmig shouldn’t have been fired for using taxpayer funded research to support his private sector business and that his dismissal was the industry’s fault without offering any evidence:

While we strongly disagree with CU’s decision to part ways with Helmig, what we disagree with even more is the energy industry’s attempts to take advantage of this situation to minimize the role that their emissions play in fueling our region’s serious air quality problems.” (emphasis added)

A Colorado political commentator, Paula Noonan, echoed that belief, questioning why Helmig’s abuse of taxpayer funds should merit his dismissal:

“The bottom line here for Colorado citizens is that a scientist who has spent his entire career, with many peer reviewed academic articles to his credit, no longer has his position at the University of Colorado with no explanation other than his private, civic work conflicted in some way with his academic work.”

Contrary to what Fenberg, Jones, and Noonan write, Helmig’s research has been shown to be flawed and even top government officials admit the state’s strategy is broken. Meanwhile, the oil and natural gas industry in Colorado continues to make progress on air pollution and production helped lower emissions in power generation.

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