Mountain States

Controversial Air Quality Researcher Acknowledges Why He Was Fired by CU Boulder

In his first interview since being fired from the University of Colorado, researcher Detlev Helmig spoke with a well-known activist news site where he disclosed more information about the cause of his dismissal.

Helmig, an air quality researcher who worked for CU Boulder’s Institute of Arctic and Alpine Research (INSTAAR), was fired in April. At the time, CU Boulder only said that the reason was that Helmig was improperly mixing publicly-funded research with his personal business pursuits, despite pledging he would keep the two separated, but didn’t give additional details. The 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)

Now Helmig is shedding more light on the situation.

In an interview with InsideClimateNews, Helmig acknowledged he had received permission from CU Boulder to conduct air monitoring work for the City of Longmont through his company Boulder A.I.R., but failed to obtain an additional permission for similar work for the City of Broomfield.

In a story headlined, “Detlev Helmig Was Frugal With Tax Dollars. Then CU Fired Him for Misusing Funds,” InsideClimateNews reports:

“Helmig, figuring that he was doing the same monitoring program he had done for Longmont, which CU had already approved, built some equipment in his garage and set it up in Broomfield. This might have been a career-killing oversight, since the Longmont MOU stated that the agreement was a ‘one-time exemption.’”

“…In early March 2020, he met with [Merritt] Turetsky, newly appointed as INSTAAR’s director, who explained that there were ongoing concerns about the way he was juggling his business and his university responsibilities.”

CU Boulder was also auditing Helmig’s business practices before this, as well:

“But Helmig’s working relationship with the university was strained when he used his outside consulting firm to help expand air monitoring to neighboring jurisdictions. Even though he successfully negotiated a memorandum of understanding last year with the university to set up air monitors in the nearby city of Longmont, the university institute where he worked began an audit of his activities, marking the beginning of his troubles.”

InsideClimateNews suggests that the City of Broomfield knew Helmig had not signed an agreement with CU Boulder before beginning his work:

“Broomfield was concerned that if Helmig ran the monitoring job through CU, it would take too long to approve. ‘We didn’t have that kind of time,’ said council member Laurie Anderson, a former Republican who became so fed up with oil and gas development in her backyard that she ran for office—and won. ‘We could do this more quickly and for less money if we went with Dr. Helmig,’ she said.”

Helmig Embraces an Activist Lawyer and News Site

Despite producing questionable work, Helmig has conveyed an image of a mainstream researcher who works with state government officials to craft public policies and speaks frequently with the media. In his interview with InsideClimateNews, Helmig even claims he’s not against oil and natural gas development:

“‘I’m not an anti-fracking guy,’ he said. ‘I drive a car. I like to get in a plane to visit my mother in Germany.’ He sees his role as a scientist to ‘provide valuable, careful data to policymakers to help them make well-informed decisions.’”

Yet since being fired, Helmig has embraced activists who are intent on shutting down responsible energy production in Colorado and nationally.

Helmig chose not to give his first interview to any of the mainstream Colorado media outlets that he has previously spoken with like the Denver Post, Boulder Daily Camera, or Broomfield Enterprise.

Instead, Helmig broke his silence with InsideClimateNews, an activist news site which is by no means considered mainstream, objective journalism. The site is filled with anti-oil and natural gas coverage and support of environmental activists and has played a prominent role in advancing the debunked “Exxon Knew” campaign after receiving funding from various Rockefeller-linked organizations for the specific purpose of writing stories favorable to that cause.

After his firing, Helmig also hired Joe Salazar to be his lawyer. Salazar is the executive director of the “Keep It In the Ground” activist group Colorado Rising, which pushed the failed Prop 112 ballot measure that would have effectively banned the industry in Colorado.

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