350 Colorado Alleges Outside Influences At Work As It Seeks Records In Ousting Of CU Researcher
350 Colorado has requested open records documents in relation to the recent dismissal of a CU Boulder atmospheric researcher who was let go after an internal university investigation found a blurring of public and private research and funding, the group said Monday.
Dr. Detlev Helmig was fired from his role at the university’s Institute of Arctic and Alpine Research for not following protocols to maintain distance between his publicly funded university research and private commercial work contracted with the state of Colorado and local governments. Helmig’s Boulder A.I.R. LLC has several ongoing and recent contracts for hundreds of thousands of dollars to monitor air quality in Boulder County, the City of Longmont, and the City and County of Broomfield.
Western Wire was the first to report Helmig’s departure.
350 Colorado’s Gina Hardin released a statement from the group “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.”
Hardin said the group believes outside forces and not an internal investigation is responsible for the researcher’s firing, echoing allegations levelled last week when the news began to break.
“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. This was reported first on April 17 by the oil and gas industry-funded news organization, Western Wire, through CU’s Chief Spokesperson Melanie Marquez Parra. 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,” Hardin wrote.
350 Colorado included comment from one of Helmig’s clients, the City of Longmont’s Deputy City Manager, Dale Rademacher, who said the status of Helmig’s employment would not affect his work in the city.
“Longmont Deputy City Manager, Dale Rademacher has said that Dr. Helmig’s termination of employment from the University should have no impact on the plans for Dr. Helmig and his company, Boulder A.I.R., to collect and analyze data from sampling and analyzing atmospheric emissions from oil and gas operations near that city. Boulder County is also transferring its current contract for air monitoring from CU’s INSTAAR to Dr. Helmig, to continue his work for the County,” the group said.
CU’s Parra told Western Wire that no outside groups or actors influenced the investigation or the ultimate decision by the university to let Helmig go.
“Dr. Helmig no longer works for CU Boulder. Dr. Helmig created a private enterprise, Boulder A.I.R., an LLC which performs work substantially similar to that performed by Dr. Helmig for the university,” Parra explained April 17. “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.”
Adequate separation was not upheld by Helmig, Parra added.
“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,” she wrote.
When asked by Western Wire whether allegations of instigation of Helmig’s dismissal initiated anywhere but internally, Parra dismissed the claim.
“CU Boulder is committed to climate research. As world leaders in this type of research, we remain dedicated to and fully supportive of the type of research that Dr. Helmig conducts. The decision to part ways was not driven by anyone or any entity placing pressure on the university,” she wrote.
350 Colorado cites the importance of Helmig’s work in requesting documents, calling his research “invaluable.”
“The quality and integrity of Dr. Helmig’s research, including his work on the impacts of oil and gas development on air quality and the global climate has not been placed into question by CU. He has authored or co-authored nearly 200 peer-reviewed research publications, and has more recently performed research highlighting the negative impacts of Weld County oil and gas development on air quality and human health in Boulder County and other parts of the Front Range of Colorado,” the group wrote.
“Dr. Helmig’s research is an invaluable source of information for our communities that concerned legislators, regulators, city and county-level decision makers, and many members of the public have relied upon to understand the impact that the oil and gas industry is having on public health and our environment and to recommend policy accordingly,” Micah Parkin, Executive Director of 350 Colorado, said in the release.
The group also asks “media and government officials to further this investigation.”