PRESS RELEASE

Questionable Termination Undermines Climate Science

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For Immediate Release: Tuesday, May 5, 2020
Contact:  Kirsten Stade kstade@peer.org
Contact: Chandra Rosenthal (303) 898-0798

Questionable Termination Undermines Climate Science

University of Colorado-Boulder Serves Oil and Gas Special Interests

On April 7, 2020, Dr. Detlev Helmig was abruptly and inappropriately terminated as an Associate Research Professor at the Institute of Arctic and Alpine Research at the University of Colorado, Boulder, according to a letter sent yesterday by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) as part of a coalition of 39 groups and 162 individuals to the President of the University. The letter requests that the president explain to the scientific community how the important air research of Dr. Detlev Helmig will continue.

Dr. Helmig is recognized as a world-renowned expert in atmospheric research.  Prior to this abrupt termination, he had worked at CU-Boulder for 25 years and has published more than 200 peer-reviewed journal articles

A peer-reviewed publication “Air Quality Impacts of Oil and Gas Development in Colorado,” published on February 10, and authored by Dr. Helmig, compiled a review of the science of the last 12 years that have addressed the impacts of oil and gas drilling pollution in Colorado.

Just two months later, Dr. Helmig’s work was abruptly terminated by CU.  All of his public research projects were halted and his websites were taken down.  This includes the highly recognized air monitoring lab at the Boulder Reservoir. Now, oil and gas special interests are crowing about the fact that CU Boulder has terminated Dr. Helmig, removing one of the state’s few independent principal air quality investigators from his work.

The letter prepared by PEER was signed by a broad range of people that care about scientific integrity.  Governor Richard Lamm, an ex-Boulder Mayor, CU alumni, current faculty and academics, as well as national groups like the Environmental Integrity Project and the Union of Concerned Scientists do not want science politicized by special interest groups. The letter asks for CU Boulder to respond to Dr. Helmig’s requests for more information on his dismissal.

PEER is asking for an independent investigation into the process.

“Accurate science gives the State the ability to slow oil and gas production and threatens a very powerful industry. This work is a threat to the oil and gas industry because science, rather than big business, is now driving air policy on the Front Range,” said Rocky Mountain PEER Director, Chandra Rosenthal. “Dr. Helmig has been rock-solid on not crossing the line between science and advocacy, nonetheless, it’s safe to say that his work has won him powerful enemies in the oil industry. If oil and gas interests would like to disprove Dr. Helmig’s work, they should come forward with science to make a rebuttal, rather than using thuggery to attack a scientist’s livelihood and attempt to impeach his reputation.”

“In a university poll taken last year, only about 10 percent of student and faculty thought Mark Kennedy would be an effective leader and president of the university. Their vote was based in part on his ultraconservative record in the U.S. Congress.  It appears Kennedy is determined to prove them right,” said Phil Doe, Environmental Director of Be the Change.  “We can’t have back room deals jeopardizing the important work going on in Colorado.”

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PEER works nationwide with government scientists, land managers, environmental law enforcement agents, field specialists, health experts and other resource professionals committed to responsible management of America’s public resources and public health. PEER supports those who are courageous and idealistic enough to seek a higher standard of environmental ethics and scientific integrity within their agency.

Read the Community Response Letter