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How the Oil & Gas Industry Turned Colorado From Blue to Red
If money is speech, then it stands to reason that a very small number of very wealthy people can effectively drown out the voices of the multitude on issues they determine worthy of a shout via their checkbooks. Currently in Colorado, the issues where this money/speech is reaching the highest decibels are oil and gas extraction, aka fracking, and education issues such as the 2013 battle over Amendment 66 and the ongoing push by some for a school voucher system or other form of school choice.
Even before the Supreme Court’s controversial “Citizens United” ruling, campaign finance laws had blurred the lines between dollars and words.
It never seemed to matter that polls have long shown nearly 80 percent of us disagree with this notion that money is simply an extension of the voice we use to express our views and should therefore be unlimited. For decades, all that has really mattered is that the elected officials who could fix this broken system are the primary beneficiaries of its democratic shortcomings. Hence, money still talks and in Colorado, more loudly than in most places.
To understand how a handful of wealthy, influential individuals, along with the oil and gas industry and a few key political operatives, have managed to play puppeteer over our state government and even the electorate is quite complicated. That’s why we’ve included seven full pages of what I refer to as “influence maps” at the end of this article.
It has been more than a decade since Democrats came up with their now well-documented “Blueprint,” wherein four billionaires used their massive wealth to flip the state from red to blue. But after the 2014 election cycle, it is abundantly clear that the Republicans—along with a few key “Dems”—now have their own “Redprint,” which, like its blue predecessor, has worked quite well.
Substantially influencing a state’s elections, laws and regulations takes more than just spending $50 million dollars on TV, radio and newspaper ads, although that’s an important part of the equation. It also takes more than just filling the campaign coffers of politicians, although that too has its place.
In order for a microscopic minority of the monied to hold real influence over the rest of us and our democratic system of government, it requires creating the illusion that millions of people and nearly all the research on any given issue supports this minority’s specific point of view. This “illusion building” process is where the political operatives enter the picture.
In Colorado, I like to imagine this political slight of hand as a massive network of loudspeakers mounted on poles in every community across the state. Every few minutes the same message blares out over the speakers: “oil and gas and fracking are good for you because jobs, economy, freedom, American flag, natural gas is the new green, Middle East terrorists … blah, blah, blah.” The only thing that changes, in my imagined scenario, is who’s delivering the message, as nearly every blast appears to come from a brand new grassroots organization. Most of us assume these grassroots groups are made up of thousands of folks just like us. And besides, they have really intriguing names like “Citizens for the Environment Who Like Shale Oil,” or the “Clean Air Coalition for Freedom From Terrorists,” or “Mothers for Tar Sands.” You get the point.
Next, I imagine that all the wires coming from all the poles holding the loudspeakers form a giant interconnected web that covers the state like lace, but ultimately, all those wires lead back to just one small room in an office building in Denver. Inside that room, a handful of political operatives take turns at the mic pretending to be a member of the next new group who just has to tell you how much shale oil means to them while throwing in a bunch of facts and figures from seemingly credible sources, which, in the hands of these professional twisters of the truth, scare us into thinking the sky will fall, the economy will collapse and most children will go hungry if oil companies can’t stick rigs in the middle of our neighborhoods.
And that’s where this investigation comes in, because that room, or some wall-less facsimile thereof, does exist. So who is in that room, where do they get their facts and, more importantly, who pays for the whole operation are very real, very important questions.
About Those Facts
Editors Note: A few months back, Boulder Weekly agreed to pay for half the cost of a Colorado Open Records Act (CORA) request concerning certain emails at the University of Colorado Boulder’s Leeds School of Business. We split the cost with Greenpeace, who submitted the CORA and then provided us our copy of the emails. In the end we were given more than 2,000 pages, some heavily redacted, most not. This investigation and the information in this article came entirely from Boulder Weekly’s own work. We had been tracking the creation of the oil and gas industry’s network of front groups and the Republican Party’s funding apparatus since the fall of 2014. These CORA documents helped us to further understand the complex interconnections of both.
I remember the first time I heard someone say they thought something fishy might be going on at the University of Colorado Boulder’s Leeds School of Business. It was in October 2013, as we were pulling together our annual vote guide and endorsements package. I don’t remember who said it, but someone uttered something like, “Leeds must be on the payroll of ‘Vote NO on 66’.”
It wasn’t a serious accusation. It was simply a way of noting that Leeds’ research on the issue seemed out of step, and quite popular with the “vote NO” crowd.
The left-leaning Bell Policy Center had released an economic study claiming Amendment 66 — an education funding initiative that would have raised about a billion dollars a year by way of a tax increase — would be neutral for the state’s economy over the long-term. In addition, Colorado State University had also released research predicting a neutral economic long-term impact if 66 passed.
But not so with the Leeds School, whose research seemed to reach the opposite conclusion. Actually, Leeds simply broke its analysis into two reports. First, it created a report focused only on the very negative economic consequences of the tax increase. Then it created a second report that showed if the money decreased incarceration rates, dropout rates and created other educational positives, the tax hike could actually be neutral to slightly positive economically in the long term. The other reports simply chose to put all this information into one document declaring the amendment’s impact as neutral. Needless to say, critics of 66 only used the first negative report from Leeds for their purposes. The business school’s two-report logic, intended or not, certainly helped to defeat Amendment 66 at the polls.
To do its Amendment 66 analysis, Leeds used an economic modeling tool known as REMI, which was created by Regional Economic Models, Inc., hence the name. It was REMI that created findings that synced perfectly with the talking points bombarding the electorate by way of TV commercials paid for by the “Vote NO on 66” folks.
“Folks” is perhaps the wrong word here. “Vote NO on 66” was basically, albeit indirectly, funded by the Independence Institute, a conservative think tank in Golden, Colorado, associated with some of the nation’s most conservative organizations. When it comes to education, the Independence Institute’s positions seem to generally align with the Koch Bothers, the Walton Family trusts and some of Colorado’s wealthiest and largest Republican donors such as billionaire oil man Alex Cranberg and C. Edward McVaney, co-founder of software company J.D. Edwards. Cranberg founded the Alliance for Choice in Education (ACE) and McVaney is on the ACE board of Trustees. ACE is an organization many associate with the school voucher movement.
Still, at the time, we at BW assumed the “Vote No on 66” and negative REMI report similarities were a simple case of action/reaction. Who wouldn’t seize upon economic analysis from a respected business school if it just so happened to support your political position?
But then came the state’s fracking debate. Local communities, along with Boulder County, started passing moratoriums and outright bans on drilling and fracking. First there was Longmont, then Boulder, Fort Collins, Lafayette and Broomfield. It was clear that the oil and gas industry was losing the battle for hearts and minds along the Front Range.
So much so that those who opposed fracking and/ or supported community control over oil and gas extraction successfully gathered more than a quarterof-a-million signatures, enough to potentially place two statewide initiatives on the November 2014 ballot. Initiative 88 would have called for a 2,000-foot setback for oil and gas wells from dwellings. Initiative 89 would have given communities the right to regulate the industry within their city limits, including an outright ban if so desired.
The oil and gas industry did not take this citizen revolt lightly. It fought back with its only real weapon — money, and thereby political clout.
The industry waged its war by creating incredibly well-funded oil and gas front groups like Coloradans for Responsible Energy Development (CRED) and Vital for Colorado (Vital). CRED was founded and is primarily funded by the two largest oil and gas companies operating in our state, Anadarko Petroleum and Noble Energy. CRED is also the group we have to thank for the endless bombardment of “fracking is good for you” TV commercials, which represent the largest single ad spend in state history. CRED is also the industry front group that paid for an entire section in The Denver Post, calling it the “energy and environment” section, which like the TV ads, was used to extol the virtues of fracking page after page, week after week. CRED clearly has money and lots of it.
More than one observer noted that media criticism of the oil and gas industry all but disappeared once the millions in ad dollars started flowing the media’s way. But that’s a story for another day.
But such tactics can only get you so far. In the end, what good are TV commercials, newspaper sections and industry front groups if they don’t have seemingly credible, third party, positive facts, figures and analysis to spout in support of the claims being made?
And then it happened again.
Right in the middle of the fracking debate, the Leeds School of Business started producing the economic analysis that seemed to perfectly fit the CRED and Vital and Gov. John Hickenlooper claims that the bans and setbacks and moratoriums were far too risky to the Colorado economy to be justified.
Leeds was producing REMI report after REMI report that the industry and its front groups wielded like a sword against their anti-fracking critics.
It all might have been explained away as a chicken and egg thing—Leeds produces its analysis, the oil and gas industry sees it, likes what it says and starts spouting its statistics—but for the fact that the second the reports were released for public consumption they could be found on the websites of CRED and Vital and other pro-oil front groups. It was clearly a coordinated effort. Similarly, politicians like Gov. Hickenlooper who support and are supported by the oil and gas industry were instantly quoting the reports as if they had been briefed (or even rehearsed) on the contents before the rest of us had even had a chance to view them.
It all seemed too organized, too fortuitous to be ignored.
REMI Comes to CU
In July of 2013, just months before Amendment 66 would go before voters, the Leeds School of Business was approached with an unusual proposition.
The for-public-consumption version of the story that ran in The Denver Post and the various business papers said a recently formed organization calling itself the Common Sense Policy Roundtable (CSPR) had joined forces along with a couple of well established Denver area economic development groups—Metro Denver Economic Development Corporation and Denver South Economic Development Partnership—in order to make a significant purchase.
The story continued that the three groups pooled their money and bought the exclusive licensing rights to the Front Range for an economic modeling system called REMI, which was reportedly valued at over $800,000 for a five-year period. REMI was loaded with Colorado economic data and touted as being capable of analyzing potential economic impacts of things like ballot measures, oil industry importance to the economy, water issues, PERA, etc.
The story was that after the exclusive license was secured, the three groups approached the Leeds School of Business and then contracted the school to run the REMI analysis for them on a third-party basis. In exchange, the Leeds School would get free access to REMI, $110,000 a year for producing reports and another $38,000 a year to keep REMI updated.
The Leeds School then assigned the REMI project to the research team of Brian Lewandowski and Richard Wobbekind of the Business Research Division of the Leeds School.
In a recent interview with BW, Wobbekind, whose full title is executive director of the Business Research Division and senior associate dean of the Leeds School of Business, described the importance of the involvement of the two well-established economic development groups in the REMI project. He described how representatives from all three groups had sold the idea to the Leeds School. He said he knew that CSPR considered itself a “conservative think tank,” but claimed he wasn’t familiar with them. He said he knew and respected the other organizations and indicated that this familiarity was enough to make him feel comfortable with the REMI partnership. He even went so far as to say the Leeds School would not have agreed to the deal if it had only been CSPR proposing it. As we will see, that is an interesting observation.
But like I said, the earlier description of events was the for-public-consumption version that was fed to the press and reported in lockstep without ever checking the facts.
What Wobbekind apparently didn’t know, or has forgotten, was that the exclusive licensing for REMI had, in fact (according to information in the CORA docs), only been purchased by and is still owned by CSPR alone. An examination of CSPR’s 2013 Form 990 return shows a $224,411 expenditure for REMI which again seems to confirm that the tool was licensed by CSPR alone based on that dollar amount and the press reports of the tool’s cost.
Furthermore, the contract that assigned CU the rights to run REMI for CSPR is only between CSPR and the CU Board of Regents. There are no other signatories.
The contract does state that the data produced by REMI will be of interest to certain third parties, and partially funded by third parties, including chambers of commerce and others. It goes on to add, “These third parties along with CSPR and the Leeds School will review and approve projects and otherwise manage the REMI Program.”
Bear with me—there is a point to this level of contractual exactitude.
The contract goes on to say that CSPR alone has the power to authorize a “management committee” to manage and direct the REMI project. The contract also says the management committee will be made up of two members from CSPR, two members from the Leeds School and additional members from the thirdparty participants (funders) who are approved by the CSPR board of directors. And finally, the contract states that the management committee will “operate in accordance with a Memorandum of Understanding signed by members of the management committee.” Remember that last part.
So to recap, unlike what was reported by media at the time, CSPR, Metro Denver Economic Development Corporation and Denver South Economic Development Partnership were not all owners of the exclusive REMI license agreement and they had not all signed a contract with CU to produce REMI research. But those misleading news reports did make the project sound much more credible than it was. As the news reports described how the three groups were going to make their REMI research available to local and state governments to help them better understand complex economic issues—it sounded like a truly altruistic endeavor designed to make the world a better place.
But in reality, CSPR clearly controlled the project. It alone owned REMI. It alone had contracted CU to produce REMI research. CSPR had the power to choose who was on the management committee and only members approved by its board of directors could serve. The contract even noted that CSPR alone has full ownership over all the research and reports produced by the Leeds School using REMI. And it adds that CSPR can have as many funders of the REMI project as it wants and there is no provision that those funders be disclosed to CU. The contract never even mentions Metro Denver Economic Development Corp. or Denver South Economic Development Partnership, the two entities that apparently gave credibility to the REMI deal in Wobbekind’s mind.
The economic development groups and CSPR may have called themselves “partners” or the “consortium,” but by all legal measures, the REMI project was, and is, the property of CSPR.
In fact, according to an email from CU in response to questions regarding this contractual relationship, the two economic development groups contribute funding to the REMI project by way of a dues structure with CSPR.
The emails in the CORA release show that the Leeds researchers do seem to operate as if the three groups are more or less equals. They provide information to CSPR and the two economic development groups through representatives of the economic development groups who have been appointed and/or accepted to the management committee by CSPR. But the tone and content of the CORA emails also make it clear that CSPR is running the show, and they also clearly reflect that the Leeds School is well aware of the exact nature of the relationships of the three entities.
For instance, in the Leeds School/CSPR proposal for the REMI project dated April 25, 2013, the two economic development organizations are properly referred to simply as “funding partners” while acknowledging that CSPR, who contracted CU, is the sole owner of REMI. It reads as follows:
CSPR has contracted with REMI to provide the base economic models and Tax-Pl for three regions: Colorado, Denver Metro, and Denver South. The BRD (Business Research Division) research team will be the contracted model users. The team will apply its comprehensive understanding of the Colorado economy, debate economic assumptions, and run the REMI model for dynamic analysis on issues raised by the Board.
The Board will be comprised of representatives from the CSPR, the Metro Denver Economic Development Partnership, the Denver South Economic Development Partnership, and other funding partners, as well as two non-sponsor representatives from the University of Colorado.
Another email indicates that CU understands the structure.
All of this ownership and control business is important for several reasons: credibility, credibility and credibility.
For reasons that will become imminently clear shortly, If the Leeds School of Business were to create REMI reports that stated that they were created solely under contract for CSPR, who charges dues to funding partners like the two economic development groups, it is quite realistic to assume that both the reports and Leeds School would have their credibility quickly questioned.
For this reason, credibility, it is understandable why Leeds and/or CSPR would make efforts to make sure the other two groups share equally in the spotlight when REMI reports are released or discussed in the media.
But the Leeds School may have taken this “credibility washing” a bit too far. Despite being aware of the proper designation and role of each of the three players as evidenced by the proposal excerpt above, the fracking ban, the 2,000-foot setback, the Amendment 66 and other REMI reports all erroneously claim that the three groups are equals in the REMI project, having all contracted together for the license of REMI as well as having all together contracted the Leeds School to run REMI. These reports use the following language:
A partnership of public and private organizations announced in July 2013 the formation of a collaboration to provide Colorado lawmakers, policy makers, and business leaders with greater insight into the economic impact of public policy decisions that face the state and surrounding regions. The parties involved include the Common Sense Policy Roundtable, the Metro Denver Economic Development Corporation, and the Denver South Economic Development Partnership. The Business Research Division (BRD) of the Leeds School of Business at the University of Colorado Boulder was contracted by the consortium to provide third party, nonbiased research that objectively analyzes the economic impacts of public policy. This consortium meets quarterly to discuss pressing economic issues impacting the state. The group identified the study of a statewide economic impact of hydraulic fracturing ban as both relevant and timely.
The consortium licensed dynamic economic models from Regional Economic Models, Inc. (REMI) to study the economic impacts of policy.
It is subtle, but it is also not true. So who is responsible for this bending of the facts, Leeds or CSPR?
I should note here, that there is no evidence that would indicate that CU researchers have ever intentionally altered REMI research outcomes to suit the desires of CSPR or its funding partners. That is not the point, nor is it being insinuated here. But just because the facts and figures in a REMI report were appropriately arrived at does not mean that the process by which the Leeds School’s REMI research was assigned and enters the public debate is not being manipulated for political and financial gain by those who control the process. And those who control the process are not the researchers at the Leeds School.
I should also note that REMI has been considered a useful and respected economic tool for many years. Again, however, researchers who use such tools have reported that they, including REMI, can be and are often abused to create research that basically serves as corporate PR. There is no indication that the Leeds School researchers have done anything inappropriate … except perhaps not having been more curious about their REMI boss, CSPR.
Behind the Façade (or why CSPR needs credible partners)
The Common Sense Policy Roundtable bills itself as “a non-profit free-enterprise think tank dedicated to the protection and promotion of Colorado’s economy.”
But pull back the curtain and CSPR appears to be little more than a front group for the oil and gas industry and Republican Party fundraisers being run by some of the most powerful, well-known political operatives in the Western United States.
CSPR was founded by Kristin Strohm, who now serves as the organization’s executive director.
Strohm is best known for being the cofounder of the Starboard Group, a relatively new organization already considered possibly the most powerful fundraising entity for the Republican Party in the Western U.S. Virtually every major office—state or national—won by a Colorado Republican in 2014’s red tide that swept over the state used Strohm’s Starboard Group to fund and even direct their campaign (see influence map page 28).
While Strohm is listed as the executive director of CSPR, she isn’t paid by CSPR. According to the organization’s Form 990 return, CSPR appears to pay no full-time staff. Instead, CSPR actually pays $60,000 a year to the Starboard Group for administrative duties. Strohm is paid to administrate CSPR by the Starboard Group.
Strohm is married to one of the state’s most notorious political operatives and oil and gas industry consultant Josh Penry.
You may recall Penry as the former Republican State Senator who worked closely with Democrats and then voted with them in order to push through the oil-and-gas-industry friendly Clean Air Clean Jobs Act in 2010. Penry boasted then that the act would increase drilling by 15 percent. He was right.
Penry later announced his run for governor but suddenly dropped out of the race just as his Democratic opponent, sitting Governor Bill Ritter, did the same. This unusual set of circumstances—which many political observers believe was far more than a coincidence—led to a relatively easy gubernatorial victory for former oil and gas geologist John Hickenlooper who had spent months behind the scenes convincing the oil and gas industry that he was their enthusiastic ally. He wasn’t lying.
Penry subsequently hit the revolving door into lobbying and “consulting” for the oil and gas industry. Watchdog groups from Polluter Watch to Greenpeace have referred to Strohm and Penry as the power couple of fracking, which also makes them the power couple of REMI.
Penry is currently the vice president of EIS Solutions, which helps its clients do things like create “grassroots mobilization” among other neat tricks.
Since it is impossible to actually sell grassroots support to corporate clients and their industrial practices, it would be more accurate to say that his firm specializes in offering its clients the illusion of grassroots support.
EIS is infamous for creating faux grassroots organizations often referred to as “astroturf ” groups. It is associated with the creation of several such organizations (see influence map page 24) but the total number is simply unknown. Such groups often appear, launch a smear campaign or mail out fliers with questionable information and then disappear before anyone can get the license plate of the political operative who hit them.
Another service EIS provides is collecting signatures from businesses and/or public officials on letters or petitions that say they support fracking. The petitions are then presented to city councils or other governmental bodies to create the illusion of broad support for fracking. In 2013, EIS Solutions was caught faking signatures in Fort Collins on such a petition that it had prepared on behalf of its client, the Colorado Oil and Gas Association (COGA). The petition was delivered to the City Council shortly before it was to decide the future of fracking within city limits.
The reason Penry and EIS are important here is because Strohm’s CSPR appears to be little more than an extension of, or at best a partnership of sorts, with EIS Solutions.
The only staff members listed on CSPR’s website besides Strohm are Tim Pollard, policy advisor, and Jake Zambrano, legislative liaison. These two also happen to be the chief operating officer and council (Pollard) and the associate vice president of legislative affairs (Zambrano) for EIS Solutions. The leaders of CSPR and EIS are married and they share the same staff. It’s safe to say it’s hard to tell where one starts and the other ends. There is additional crossover as reflected on the influence maps. For instance, Strohm sits on the board of directors for Vital for Colorado, one of the state’s two most powerful oil and gas front groups that works to further fracking and fight against any new oil and gas regulations that could harm the industry’s profits. And as you will see shortly, CSPR has been instrumental in trying to grow the influence and membership of Vital. Penry has occasionally served as a spokesperson for Vital at events and three EIS Solution staffers serve as consultants to Vital. It is a complex web to be sure, but it all leads back to the same room.
To fully grasp the true influences over CSPR and the REMI project, you have to look closely at CSPR’s seven-member Board of Directors (See influence map page 23) several of whom are also on its handpicked management committee overseeing REMI.
For example, Earl Wright is CSPR’s chairman. Wright is on the Board of the CU Foundation and chairs the investment committee, overseeing more than $1 billion in CU investments. He is also on the board of the Alliance for Choice in Education (ACE), an organization founded by oil billionaire Alex Cranberg who has ties to the Koch brothers and has been cited as one of the funding sources for the Independence Institutes’ Coloradans for Real Education Reform, which opposed Amendment 66.
Wright himself was also an invited donor to the Koch brothers secretive, invitation-only strategy session in Aspen in 2010 where the topics included how to reduce regulations on the oil and gas industry by debunking climate change, reforming K-12 education (read as choice/vouchers /privatization) and how to use universities to further the Koch agenda (can you say REMI?). And for an added topper, Wright is a member of the Vital for Colorado coalition and was picked by CSPR to be on the board overseeing REMI.
How this can influence things can be seen in the CORA emails as Wright works to get the researchers together with an oil analyst named Tom Petrie to discuss the state of the industry. As it turns out, Petrie was also an invited donor to the same Koch brothers 2010 Aspen strategy meeting as Wright attended.
That’s just one of the members. As the influence maps show, there are multiple members with ties to the Koch brothers—four CSPR board members own one or more oil and gas companies. One sits on the Board of the American Coal Council. Five of the eight CSPR board members are affiliated with Vital for Colorado either as board members or members of the coalition.
Consider board member Lem Smith. He is the director of U.S Government Affairs for Encana; director of the Western Energy Alliance, a group whose PAC is a client of Strohm’s Starboard Group. He is the assistant director of the Colorado Petroleum Association and of course has ties to Vital. There’s another CSPR board member who sits on the board of the hyper-conservative Leadership Program of the Rockies, which also has Cranberg and Koch brothers ties.
Another CSPR board member is Buz Koelbel. He has pretty good influence at the Leeds School, which is housed in the Koelbel Building, named in honor of his father Walter Koelbel following a $4 million donation to the Leeds School by the family. But he’s more than that. Buz Koelbel is a Republican activist who worked with Citizens for Fair and Legal Elections, which was the Republican front group that helped redraw the district lines in favor of that party. He is also a coalition member of Vital for Colorado. And as for those well-established economic development groups that helped persuade the Leeds School to do the REMI deal, Koelbel is the Chairman of the Board of one of them, the Denver South Economic Development Partnership. The President and CEO of the other one, the Metro Denver Economic Development Council, is Kelly Brough, who 5280 magazine named one of the most powerful people in Denver while describing her as one of the most outspoken proponents of the oil and gas industry in the state.
But Brough is far more than just outspoken. She is also a former chief of staff for Gov. John Hickenloper when he was the mayor of Denver. In addition she sits on the Advisory Committee of CRED as well as the board for Vital for Colorado. She is credited with actually having written the “Vital pledge” along with Colorado Concern President Tamra Ward. And lastly and most importantly, Brough is also a member of Colorado Concern, the colossal powerhouse of invisible politics. Colorado Concern is an invitation-only group that truly deserves the credit for making the “Redprint” possible, but more on them in a moment.
For now it suffices to say that while the two economic development groups who give the appearance of credibility to the REMI project are indeed large organizations filled with many well respected business leader; both organizations also have leadership that could be best described as political and who are currently instrumental in the oil and gas industry’s war with those who oppose drilling/fracking in their communities.
So CSPR—and even its more credible funders—are hardly the non-partisan economic development crew that the Leeds School says it thinks it has partnered with on REMI.
Instead, the consortium that is actually running REMI could be described as the who’s who of pro-oil industry/conservative education activism that is being steered by the “power couple of fracking,” one of whom is credited with raising more money for teapartyesque Republican candidates, 527’s and PACs than anyone in the Western United States, while the other specializes in creating the illusion of citizen support while working for a firm known for its “dirty tricks,” politically speaking.
And a deeper look at CSPR starts to turn up other, even more disturbing connections and practices for a group partnered with one of the state’s most respected business schools.
A few clicks into the back of the CSPR website and the “think tank” appears to be a group of political operatives producing selective research at just the right time to assist some of the nation’s most powerful industrial forces in achieving their political goals. Consider just these two agenda items from the CSPR’s 2014 Strategic Plan:
Strategic Objective 2.3: Vital for Colorado
Phase One: by April 2014, help Vital for Colorado secure pledge forms from minimum 100 businesses, associations or business leaders.
Phase Two: by April 2014, release fracing (sic) ban study to Vital to use as education tool.
Ongoing: Have board participation at all levels and launch Vital across the state.
Translation: CSPR is Vital.
Strategic Objective 2.3: Americans for Prosperity Foundation (AFPF)
Phase One: by April 2014, finalize plan for 2014 with AFPF on fiscal policy issues to research.
No translation needed here. AFP Foundation is the Koch brothers. It at least appears that the Leeds School may just have another silent partner it doesn’t seem to know about.
Despite the public accessibility of such information, it appears—based on conversations with the Leeds School research team—that no one within the business school was aware that its contractual overseer for its REMI partnership was working with the Koch brothers’ Americans for Prosperity Foundation or working to spread the influence statewide and increase the membership of one of the most powerful oil and gas front groups in Colorado.
But such discoveries require a different kind of research than what the Leeds School is used to. It seems safe to assume that CU doesn’t do any digging to see who its potential partners are when they come baring expensive gifts (REMI) and cash.
When I asked the REMI research team if they had any inkling who Strohm or Starboard Group or Penry or EIS Solutions were in the political world outside of REMI, they said they had no idea.
That may be true but there were clues that could have made the Leeds School at least a bit suspicious about its REMI Partner.
For instance, why did CSPR seem to have such close ties to Vital for Colorado and CRED?
Even before the REMI reports on the impacts of a statewide fracking ban and the 2,000-foot setback were ready for release, Strohm was already setting up briefings and presentations for all “the pro-energy groups” and for the governor.
The CORA docs show a level of activism on the part of Strohm that is hard to ignore. She called meetings to decide how to get the 2,000-foot setback study into the hands of the Hickenlooper Oil and Gas Task Force so they could “use it as tool going forward.” A calendar entry said it even more succinctly: “Coordinate task force testimony with study highlights.” Coordinating the testimony of a governor’s appointed task force is well beyond the standard operation of a few economic development groups releasing a research paper. But CSPR likely had an in with the pro oil and gas members of the taskforce, as the influence maps show.
And remember, this is the same task force assembled as part of the supposed compromise between Gov. Hickenlooper and Rep. Jared Polis that resulted in Polis not turning in the quarter of a million signatures that would have put two “anti-fracking” measures on the 2014 ballot including a 2,000-foot setback measure and a local control measure, known as Amendments 88 and 89 respectively.
The Leeds School might not have known that CRED and Vital and CSPR all share some of the same board members (see influence maps) and plot their strategies together, but it should have recognized from the emails and meetings that the relationships were more than cozy.
And what about the 2013 Amendment 66 REMI research? A quick look at the CSPR website would have told the Leeds School that CSPR was already an activist supporter of school choice and vouchers and had posted studies praising the results of the controversial takeover of the Douglas County School Board in order to push school choice. They even used the REMI Amendment 66 research to further make the point just weeks before the election in their own newsletter, which they sent to the Leeds School’s Wobbekind. There’s no way to know if he actually saw it.
CSPR’s October 2013 newsletter ran a front page story about all the jobs and money that would be lost if Amendment 66 passed and followed it with a story praising how choice had turned Douglas County into one of America’s best school systems. The message was clear: it doesn’t take a tax increase to have better schools, it just takes school choice and conservative leadership. The juxtaposition of the two pieces by the political operatives running CSPR said all you needed to know about the “think tank’s” motives for ordering up a REMI study on Amendment 66 (in two parts).
Another clue might have been an email wherein Strohm thanked everyone for their efforts and then said she was off to a meeting with the anti-Amendment 66 group Coloradans for Real Education Reform an hour before the report was to be released. I’m sure the Independence Institute put on a great celebration.
It’s difficult to understand how Strohm’s constant and clear pattern of involvement with political organizations tied to issues being pushed forward as REMI projects wasn’t more cause for concern. But that appears to be the case. Nothing in the CORA documents indicates that anyone at CU or the Leeds School ever raised an issue over how REMI research was being used in the real world.
This is the larger point: The Leeds School’s REMI research may be completely accurate, but it is being intentionally assigned, and its releases timed, to enhance its value as a political tool that can support the agendas of CSPR, CRED, Vital and the school choice movement, all of which are acting under similar strategic plans because they are all being guided to a shocking degree by the same small group of people, which includes those in charge of REMI by way of CSPR.
So that’s where the credible facts and figures come from and more importantly, how they make their way into all those TV commercials.
But running a network of loud speakers on polls in every corner of the state like the one being controlled by CRED, Vital, EIS Solutions, CSPR, Starboard Group and the rest of the gang is very expensive.
The influence maps at the end of this article tell most of the story of how the oil and gas industry/Republican’s “Redprint” works. The state’s largest Republican donors, and many of the most powerful, wealthy and influential folks in Colorado, can be found in Colorado Concern and the Alliance for Choice in Education. Their money/speech flows into Strohm’s Starboard Group by the tens of millions of dollars as well as into CRED and Vital and the rest. To get a quick understanding of the “Redprint” and how it is quickly flipping Colorado from blue to red, it helps to know from where the idea originally came.
But First, A Quick Side Note
I have one last observation about CU and REMI before we move up the “Redprint” food chain. It’s about that Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) I asked you to remember earlier.
Of all the documents that really shed light on the varying roles of the REMI participants and establish the fact that they are not equal, this document is it. It explains that CSPR is the sole license holder of the agreement with REMI. It sets out that CU will be running the REMI program per an agreement with CSPR. It confirms that CSPR alone has created a management committee that includes representatives from the two economic development groups pursuant to joint funding agreements between the two groups and CSPR.
It explains the process for management committee membership. Each participating member has to submit its committee appointments in writing to CSPR. CSPR gets to appoint the chair of the committee. The CSPR board of directors has the right at any time to access information or work product of the management committee. And most importantly, the activities of the management committee are subject to review by the CSPR board of directors.
The MOU leaves no doubt who is running the REMI show. Whatever management committee powers CSPR grants to its funders, in the end even those are subject to CSPR board oversight.
And how about this jewel: No work product of the REMI program, including reports, can be disclosed by any participating member unless the management committee approves the release. Ever. Let me translate that.
CSPR and its funders can research any issue they choose, but they have no obligation to release any reports that don’t match their political purposes. CSPR and its funding partners may not be able to significantly influence the Leeds researchers’ findings, but by holding the power over what does and doesn’t get released, they still ultimately control the REMI project outcomes in that fashion.
CU failed to provide a copy of this MOU in our CORA request even though they should have, in my opinion.
In fact, the MOU contains a paragraph that even states, “This agreement is not considered confidential and is subject to disclosure under CORA.” That’s pretty clear, but CU still didn’t comply.
What I got from CU in the original request was an old email exchange from Strohm saying the MOU was attached along with five pages of giant black squares. They were 100 percent redacted. This despite the fact that the document itself states that it is available to share under CORA.
Clearly there was something fishy going on. Why black out a document that actually says it is sharable under CORA? The answer is someone at CU didn’t want us to see the MOU for a reason known only to CU.
In response to an email request for further clarification on the relationships between the participating parties, I was finally given an unredacted copy just prior to going to press, but it came with a peculiar explanation. I was told that the unredacted copy of the MOU I was given was not identical to the MOU under the black squares.
I was then told that the MOU under the black squares had been withheld from the CORA request because it was considered attorney client privileged material because it had been given to legal for an opinion. Which left me trying to figure out what I was holding in my hand since apparently it wasn’t attorney client privileged and wasn’t even the same doc as what was under the black squares. Eventually I was told that the MOU I was given had never been executed by CU, which was true.
My copy did have the signatures of Kristin Strohm for CSPR, Thomas Clark for Metro Denver Economic Development Corp. and Mike Fitzgerald for Denver South Economic Development Partnership, all dated from June 2013. None of the signatures were notarized or witnessed and sure enough, Provost and Executive Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs Russell Moore’s signature was missing.
I was eventually told that how my copy of the MOU differed from the one under the black squares was that the redacted copy had even less signatures. In other words, there was no legally binding MOU in place for the participating groups in the REMI project.
CU Senior News Editor Julie Poppen told me that the groups had been operating under the terms of the MOU even though it appears there has never been a fully signed copy.
The moral of the story: someone needs to explain to CU’s records department that you don’t get to black out documents that have been requested under CORA simply because you don’t want people to see them. That is a privilege reserved solely for former Secretaries of State.
I still don’t know if the document was withheld because it so clearly showed that the parties were never equals in the REMI project or if it was because the university didn’t want anyone to know it had screwed up and was operating without an enforceable MOU agreement. In the big picture, it only matters because it makes me wonder what else is under all those other black redaction boxes in our CORA request. But enough about black, let’s get back to red.
Red to Blue to Red
A lot has happened in Colorado politics over the last decade or so. In 2003, Colorado was a red state, a really red state. Republican Bill Owens was governor; substantial Republican majorities controlled both the state House and Senate; Colorado’s two senators at the nation’s capital were Republicans as were five out of seven of the state’s representatives.
Not only was Colorado red, it was supposed to be red because there were simply more registered Republicans in the state than there were Democrats, which back then used to actually have an impact on election outcomes.
But times change. As is well known to most politically knowledgeable folks in Colorado, four billionaires — Tim Gill, Jared Polis, Pat Stryker and Rutt Bridges—along with a few very astute political operatives led by strange-bedfellows/deal-maker extraordinaire Ted Trimpa, hatched a scheme to turn the state blue back in 2003 and it worked.
By 2004, Democrats controlled the Colorado House and Senate and one U.S. Senate seat had changed colors. By 2008, Dems had added the governor’s mansion, both senate seats and three out of five representatives. Colorado was no longer red. It wasn’t even purple. Colorado had become a bright blue example of what could be accomplished politically with enough money and great strategy, even in a state where Republicans still outnumber Democrats.
You could fill a book with all the details of how “the Gang of Four” (the name given to Gill, Polis, Stryker and Bridges) accomplished their amazing feat. In fact, that’s exactly what Rob Witwer and Adam Schrager did in their incredibly revealing 2010 book The Blueprint: How the Democrats Won Colorado (and Why Republicans Everywhere Should Care).
What the Gang of Four did was transformative, if not particularly democratic. These ultra-wealthy individuals built a web of donor-controlled organizations that worked together to promote exactly what the donors wanted promoted. Charitable organizations, PACs, 527’s, new faux “news” outlets under the control of the donors, watchdog groups that watched only who and what they were told to watch, and activist organizations centered around the environment, gay rights and other social justice issues all worked together to promote the donor’s agenda while giving the all-important appearance of broad popular support. It was a pricy manipulation of the system, but an effective one.
In fact, it worked to perfection for several years.
While Republicans were making gains all across the nation, the Gang of Four—who eventually blended in with other high-powered Democratic donors to become known as the Colorado Democracy Alliance—were having wild success in Colorado. It seemed only one thing could threaten their “Blueprint” plan — a plan predicated on outspending Republicans by huge margins in strategic races—and that was the ever-looming possibility that someone on the other side might be willing to spend even more than them
to create the same kind of operation, a “Redprint” for lack of a better term.
It appeared unlikely for a number of years that anything of the sort would happen. While billionaires Gill and Stryker and many-times-over millionaires Bridges and Polis were laying out millions on every election cycle, the largest single Republican donors were giving $200,000, tops, in any given year.
But then the oil and gas industry got a little ticked.
Democrat Bill Ritter won the 2006 gubernatorial election and he started talking about renewable energy and clean air. He even passed some new air regulations on the oil and gas industry. Oops.
There are more than 52,000 oil and gas wells in Colorado. One good size well pad in Weld County can generate as much as $22,000,000 all by itself.
In other words, make the oil industry mad and the $10 million that the Gang of Four was spending to blow away Republicans suddenly looks like chump change.
The very short answer as to what happened next is that in order to keep the oil industry’s money on the sideline and not overturn the Democrat’s “Blueprint,” a few deals with strange bedfellows had to be made.
Boulder Weekly has written in depth on this issue previously. (For a more thorough explanation, see our investigation titled “Who killed the vote on fracking?”, Oct. 2, 2014.)
Political operative/lobbyist Ted Trimpa is often credited with coming up with the plan to keep the oil industry at bay. If he didn’t think of it, he certainly gets credit for pulling it off. It no doubt helped that he was the political strategist for the largest Democratic donor in the state, Tim Gill, while simultaneously serving as lobbyist for two of the state’s largest oil and gas companies, Encana and Noble Energy; strange bedfellows indeed.
The looming threat was that the oil industry was going to make sure it spent enough free speech to get Ritter out of office. Such an expenditure would likely have turned out Republican voters in sizable numbers impacting all the down ballot races as well. Democrats feared losing their majority in the legislature as well as the governorship.
Republican candidates running against Ritter at the time included then Republican Senate Minority Leader Josh Penry (remember that name?) and Republican Scott McInnis, whose campaign was being handled by the Gang That Couldn’t Shoot Straight, making him little threat to the Democrats.
Long story short, Ritter proposes the Clean Air Clean Jobs Act in 2010 giving the oil and gas industry a better market for their natural gas and increasing drilling activity all across the state. That’s the peace pipe.
Ritter and Penry are both running for governor but suddenly decide to drop out of the race. The day he leaves office, Ritter gets a cushy job running Pat Stryker’s pro oil and gas foundation up at CSU, Penry becomes a lobbyist and oil and gas consultant. And oil and gas geologist and lover of all things hydrocarbon
John Hickenlooper strolls easy into the governor’s mansion. Oil wins the day, and Democrats keep the state blue.
By 2012 it was becoming clear that a citizens’ movement against oil and gas development/fracking was increasing in intensity. The activist 20 percent of the Democratic Party was rebelling against Hickenlooper and other oil-friendly Dems. Republicans seized the moment.
It wasn’t hard to figure out a “Redprint” strategy.
Republicans just started doing what the Gang of Four had done.
Colorado Concern, an invitation-only group made up of the wealthiest individuals; conservative foundations and investment firms; powerful corporate leaders, many of them from the oil and gas and development sectors and a handful of political operatives, lobbyist and law firms, have joined the new red war.
To understand what drives Colorado Concern and its critical roll in the “Redprint,” you simply need to go to its website and read. It clearly is the organization setting the agenda from top to bottom. Consider these lengthy excerpts from the website and think of them in terms of CSPR’s REMI projects as you read. I’ll add my own notes in bold print.
Colorado Concern has developed a strong and positive agenda for 2015, including:
• Aggressively advocating for the economic benefits of our state’s vital oil and natural gas industry - and the tens of thousands of jobs it generates across Colorado. Responsible energy exploration remains under attack, and we will continue to stand up against these anti-jobs assaults. [Even the language is a wink and a nod to Vital of Colorado and Coloradans for Responsible Energy Development. Leeds has issued multiple REMI reports on fracking and setbacks and oil and gas job creation.] • Expanding opportunities for homeownership by reforming our state’ s outdated construction defects laws - laws that prevent the construction of attainable, affordable condominiums, which are often the first rung on the ladder of homeownership. [Leeds School was asked to prepare a REMI-like report on construction defects.] • Launching a statewide conversation about how to boost the integrity of the current ballot initiative process and protect our State Constitution from continuing to become a cluttered virtual coatrack of competing, and occasionally contradictory, policy preferences. [Colorado Concern wants to make it impossible for citizens to exercise direct democracy via ballot initiatives. CC lobbied for passage of HB 1057, which passed and forces financial impact statements to be placed on petitions attempting to gain signatures for ballot initiatives. This was in essence a preemptive strike against the anti-fracking movement’s announced 2016 initiative effort. Colorado Concern was also the force behind the two pro-oil industry ballot measures—Amendment 137 and Amendment 121—that were traded as part of the Hickenlooper/ Polis compromise that killed the anti fracking ballot measures. One of those measures was designed to make it extremely expensive to put ballot initiatives up for a vote.] Our mission is to ensure that the decisions that are made by our elected leaders, and through direct democracy at the ballot box, are aligned with a vision that leads to a healthy, robust and growing economy.
STRATEGIC AREAS OF FOCUS
Colorado Concern engages in three primary areas: legislative advocacy, ballot issue campaigns and statewide candidate elections.
Legislative Advocacy: Promoting and protecting a pro-business environment requires a constant watch on what is under way at the State Capitol. Colorado Concern has two lobbyists focused on this effort. Key areas of interest include our business climate, as well as cornerstones of our economy, such as education reform and its relationship to the development of our future workforce; a functional and financed transportation system that allows for the movement of both goods and people; and efforts to control or reduce the cost of health care to employers.
[“Education reform” — there it is. Colorado Concern opposed Amendment 66 and as the influence maps show, it has significant cross membership and leadership with Alex Cranberg’s hyper-conservative Alliance for Choice in Education.
Transportation is on the upcoming REMI Agenda as is a REMI Medicaid report.] Ballot Issue Campaigns: Coloradans enjoy the right to vote on key measures through direct democracy. This requires serious engagement from the business community both to support issues of keen interest and to oppose those we believe impact our quality of life. Colorado Concern’s activities in this area include campaign oversight, education of the broader business community and substantial financial support.
[Can’t be more clear than that. This is where the money to fight anti-fracking ballot measures is coming from.] Statewide Candidate Elections: Elected leaders who understand and support the key principles of a strong business environment are key to our state’s future economic success. Colorado Concern members—through the organization’s Political Action Committee (PAC), its “Business Opportunity Fund” (527), and individual contributions—promote candidates who understand and embrace that philosophy.
[And this is where Starboard Group’s expertise comes in. It is important to point out that Starboard Group has publically stated that when it comes to deciding which Republican candidates they will work with, that is a decision that is made by Starboard’s major donors. Colorado Concern controls the “Redprint.”] As the influence maps show, the lines between the old pro-oil-and-gas Democratic “Blueprint” and the new Republican “Redprint” are a bit blurred as the state’s single largest Democratic donor, Tim Gill, is a member and on the board of Colorado Concern.
For years critics of the “Blueprint” have argued that the Gang of Four’s takeover of Colorado politics was far more about creating a pathway to gay rights than about creating Democratic Party success. There is ample evidence in the public record that this claim may be at least somewhat grounded in fact. Gill has been actively placing gay and gay-rights supportive
Republicans into positions of power within his organizational sphere. The powerful Gill Foundation is now headed by a Republican and Gill has supported the campaigns of several Republicans who have been outspoken supporters of gay rights.
What Gill’s apparent willingness to support Republicans and the hyper-conservative Colorado Concern agenda means going forward for Democrat’s, particularly the anti-fracking activist 20 percent of the party is anyone’s guess.
I should point out that Gill’s longtime political strategist Ted Trimpa in on the Advisory Committee of CRED.
And those aren’t the only examples blurring party lines. There are a number of influential Democratic Party donors and political operatives that are a part of Colorado Concern. However, the organization largely skews Republican by a good percentage.
As for other Dems in the group, Hickenlooper’s former chief of staff Kelly Brough is a member. She too sits on the advisory committee of CRED as well as being the president and CEO of Metro Denver Economic Development Corp., one of the two funding partners of CSPR on the REMI project. This could help explain why the Leeds School seems to be constantly running a REMI report on everything considered a priority for Colorado Concern’s 118 wellhealed members. Brough is not the only close tie between Colorado Concern and Gov. John Hickenlooper. Colorado Concern’s Cole Finegan, like Brough, is also a former Hickenlooper chief of staff from his time as mayor.
I’m not implying that such familiarity has made Hickenlooper popular at Colorado Concern but consider this point just for fun.
In 2014, everybody from Cory Gardner to Ken Buck to Mike Coffman to Wayne Williams all rode the Starboard Group and its money/speech to victory. Only one prominent Republican came to Starboard and left without the support he sought: Republican gubernatorial nominee Bob Beauprez. Without Starboard, Beauprez raised far less money than Hickenlooper and was the only major loss for the Republicans that year. Since we know that the donors call the shots for Starboard, maybe the folks at Colorado Concern think that Hickenlooper makes a pretty good Republican. He certainly aligns with many of the group’s core values and policy positions. Just saying.
Finally, consider that there is a good deal of crossover in leadership and membership between Colorado Concern and Alex Cranberg’s Alliance for Choice in Education (ACE). ACE holds many big Republican donors and Cranberg himself has been referred to as Colorado’s largest donor to Republicans. When oil and gas billionaire Cranberg isn’t at the top, another ACE board member often is, C. Edward McVaney, former president and founder of JD Edwards. Other trustees of ACE include Tom Petrie, Lou Hutchinson and Peter Dea.
Petrie as you may recall is the Koch-connected oil analyst who was recommended to the REMI researchers. Hutchison is president of H-D Asset Management and was also one of the founding board members to REMI’s CSPR.
Dea is on the board of Encana, owns Cirque Resources and was appointed to Hickenlooper’s Oil and Gas Task Force. As noted earlier, Colorado Concern and ACE had connections with no less than six members of Hickenlooper’s Oil and Gas Task Force, which is a fair amount of representation. that likley explains how Strohm could coordinate the Task Force testimony with REMI research findings.
In all, ACE has 11 board of director members, 67 board of trustee members, 90 members on its advisory board and 39 associate board members. Among those are dozens of oil industry execs and some of the largest, most conservative family trusts in Colorado.
Between ACE and Colorado Concern, there is enough money to run a small country. And that, is the new Republican “Redprint.”
The agenda is set at the top by the money. The dollars flow to CRED and Vital for Colorado and politicians and 527s and PACs via a number of paths, many controlled by Starboard Group who administers CSPR along with help from EIS Solutions. CSPR, and to a far lesser degree its funding partners, control the REMI project, which is used to bolster public opinion on the issues important to the funders at the top.
You have to wonder what CU’s leaders think about their business school’s connection to all this political maneuvering. Maybe I can catch CU President Bruce Benson next time he’s coming out of a Colorado Concern meeting and ask him. Yes, e is a member and also has a history of setting up 527s to boost the Republican party. Jack Finlaw, president and CEO of the University of Colorado Foundation, is also a member of Colorado Concern so it doesn’t seem likely they will be demanding any changes at the Leeds School any time soon. But back to the “Redprint.”
Along with the money that sets the agenda, there are strategists and implementers such as Kristin Strohm, Kelly Brough, Tamra Ward, Ted Trimpa, Josh Penry and dozens of other operatives running front groups of one sort or another all aimed at moving money around or creating the “illusion” of broad support. There are clearly outside forces assisting with the ongoing rollout of the “Redprint” as well, including the Koch brothers and likely other Coloradans who attend Koch brothers invitation-only donor strategy sessions such as Denver billionaire Philip Anschutz, who occasionally shows up as a donor but seems more invisible than many other players.
What does all this mean? It doesn’t bode well for Democrats. With gay marriage and increasing civil rights for gays now a reality in Colorado, will we see a pullback in Democratic Party funding by Gill and Stryker? With the oil and gas industry money now in full play and directed by the forces described in this article, can any Democrat who supports fracking bans and community control get elected at any statewide level of government? Will the citizens of Colorado be able to overcome all of this money speech to finally get a community control ballot initiative before the voters? Let’s hope so. It would be a shame if a handful of people in a room in Denver wind up running our government and destroying our environment simply because their money is louder than our voice.
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By Julia Ries
Around the world, there have been several cases of people recovering from COVID-19 only to later test positive again and appear to have another infection.
The Viral Material in Re-Positive Cases Isn’t Infectious<p>The Korean study examined 285 patients who tested positive again for the new coronavirus after they recovered from COVID-19, which had been confirmed via a negative test result.</p><p>The researchers swabbed the patients and examined the viral material to determine whether it was still actively infectious.</p><p>The team was unable to isolate live viral material, indicating that the positive diagnostic tests were picking up dead virus particles.</p><p>"[This] may speak for the fact that the virus may be dead or not be fit enough to grow — therefore the virus may not be fit enough to infect a new host," said <a href="http://www.providence.org/doctors/profile/1099717-andres-romero" target="_blank">Dr. Andres Romero</a>, an infectious disease specialist at Providence Saint John's Health Center in Santa Monica, California.</p><p>The researchers also tested 790 people who'd been in close contact with the "re-positive" patients. Of the 27 who tested positive, no cases appeared to be caused from exposure to someone who appeared to have a reinfection.</p><p>The report also found that the vast majority of recovered patients (96 percent) had neutralizing antibodies, indicating that they conferred immunity.</p><p>"Whether this is indicative of a completely protective response remains to be proven. If this study holds true, then people who have recovered can get back to work," Zapata said.</p><p>In response to the new findings, South Korea eliminated a policy requiring discharged patients to isolate for 2 weeks.</p>
Conducting and Interpreting PCR Tests<p>The tests widely used to diagnose COVID-19 are called polymerase chain reaction (PCR) tests.</p><p>The tests swab a person's nose or throat and try to pick up the virus's genetic material, or RNA.</p><p>According to <a href="https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/hcp/faq.html" target="_blank">guidance</a> from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), a positive result on a PCR test doesn't "necessarily mean infectious virus is present or that the patient is contagious."</p><p>Infectious disease experts have suspected that the test kits aren't picking up actively infectious viral material in recovered patients who test positive again, but rather dead remnants of the virus.</p><p>We see this occur with other viruses, too.</p><p>"We know other viruses like parainfluenza, human metapneumovirus, or RSV [respiratory syncytial virus] may linger for months in certain patients, and that does not represent infectious state," Romero said. "Coronavirus may be the same."</p>
We Still Need to Practice Caution<p>While the findings are promising, infectious disease experts say we still need to practice caution.</p><p>More research is needed to validate these findings and determine whether they apply to distinct parts of the population, such as those who are immunocompromised.</p><p>It's common for immunocompromised patients — such as those with cancer — to continue testing positive for a virus for longer, since it takes their immune system more time to clear the virus out of their body.</p><p>"I don't think we can be 100 percent certain of whether each recovered person is no longer contagious. Again, this may differ with distinct population groups," Zapata said.</p><p>Physicians are seeing some hospitalized patients testing positive for a month after they were first swabbed for COVID-19. It's unclear whether these patients still shed infectious virus, according to Zapata.</p><p>Everyone's body mounts a distinct immune response based on their age and overall health. Different individuals will clear the virus out at different speeds, according to Zapata.</p><p>Until we have more data and a preventive vaccine, it's crucial to continue adhering to the <a href="https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/prevent-getting-sick/prevention.html" target="_blank">safety precautions</a> laid out by the CDC.</p><p>"The reality is that moving forward, the best approach will be keeping social/physical distancing, wearing a mask, and frequent hand hygiene in order to control the spread of the virus," Romero said.</p>
The Bottom Line<p>Doctors and researchers have been unsure whether people who recover from COVID-19 who test positive again continue to be contagious, or if they could get a second infection.</p><p>New <a href="https://www.cdc.go.kr/board/board.es?mid=a30402000000&bid=0030" target="_blank">research</a> published by the Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has found that recovered COVID-19 patients who test positive again aren't infectious.</p><p>The study also found that most patients who recover have neutralizing antibodies that protect them from getting sick again.</p><p>Though the study is promising, health experts say we need more data to validate the findings and determine whether they apply to all patient populations.</p>
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By Samantha Hepburn
In the expansion of its iron ore mine in Western Pilbara, Rio Tinto blasted the Juukan Gorge 1 and 2 — Aboriginal rock shelters dating back 46,000 years. These sites had deep historical and cultural significance.
The destruction of a significant Aboriginal site is not an isolated incident. Puutu Kunti Kurrama And Pinikura Aboriginal Corporation
Not an Isolated Incident<p>The history of large developments destroying Indigenous heritage sites is, tragically, long.</p><p>A $2.1 billion light rail line in Sydney, completed last year, <a href="https://www.smh.com.au/national/nsw/this-is-a-tragic-loss-sydney-light-rail-construction-destroyed-heritage-site-20190322-p516qk.html" target="_blank">destroyed a site</a> of considerable significance.</p><p>More than 2,400 stone artifacts were unearthed in a small excavated area. It indicated Aboriginal people had used the area between 1788 and 1830 to manufacture tools and implements from flint brought over to Australia on British ships.</p><p>Similarly, <a href="https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2018/aug/27/the-rocks-remember-the-fight-to-protect-burrup-peninsulas-rock-art" target="_blank">ancient rock art</a> on the Burrup Peninsula in north-western Australia is under increasing threat from a gas project. The site contains more than one million rock carvings (petroglyphs) across 36,857 hectares.</p><p>This area is under the custodianship of Ngarluma people and four other traditional owners groups: the Mardudhunera, the Yaburara, the Yindjibarndi and the Wong-Goo-Tt-Oo.</p><p>But a <a href="https://www.aph.gov.au/Parliamentary_Business/Committees/Senate/Environment_and_Communications/BurrupPeninusla/Report" target="_blank">Senate inquiry</a> revealed emissions from adjacent industrial activity may significantly damage it.</p><p><span></span>The West Australian government is <a href="https://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2020/jan/29/australia-lodges-world-heritage-submission-for-50000-year-old-burrup-peninsula-rock-art" target="_blank">seeking world heritage listing</a> to try to increase protection, as the regulatory frameworks at the national and state level aren't strong enough. Let's explore why.</p>
What Do the Laws Say?<p>The recently renamed federal Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment is responsible for listing new national heritage places, and regulating development actions in these areas.</p><p>At the federal level, the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (<a href="http://www.austlii.edu.au/cgi-bin/viewdb/au/legis/cth/consol_act/epabca1999588/" target="_blank">EPBC Act</a>) provides a legal framework for their management and protection. It is an offence to impact an area that has national heritage listing.</p><p>But many ancient Aboriginal sites have no national heritage listing. For the recently destroyed Juurkan gorge, the true archaeological significance was uncovered <em>after</em> consent had been issued and there were no provisions to reverse or amend the decision once this new information was discovered.</p><p>Where a site has no national heritage listing, and federal legislation has no application, state laws apply.</p><p>For the rock shelters in the Western Pilbara, Rio Tinto was abiding by Western Australia's <a href="http://www.austlii.edu.au/cgi-bin/viewdb/au/legis/wa/consol_act/aha1972164/" target="_blank">Aboriginal Heritage Act 1972</a> — which is now nearly 50 years old.</p>
No Consultation With Traditional Owners<p>The biggest concern with this act is there's no statutory requirement ensuring traditional owners be consulted.</p><p>This means traditional owners are left out of vital decisions regarding the management and protection of their cultural heritage. And it confers authority upon a committee that, in the words of a <a href="https://www.dplh.wa.gov.au/getmedia/11dd5b41-fcf9-4216-a1ac-06ece672c087/AH-Review-Position-Comparison-for-Aboriginal-People" target="_blank">discussion paper</a>, "lacks cultural authority."</p>
Weak in Other Jurisdictions<p>The WA Aboriginal Heritage Act 1972 is <a href="https://www.dplh.wa.gov.au/aha-review" target="_blank">under review</a>. The proposed reforms seek to abolish the committee, ensuring future decisions on Aboriginal cultural heritage give appropriate regard to the views of the traditional Aboriginal owners.</p><p><span></span>NSW is the only state with no stand-alone Aboriginal heritage legislation. However, a <a href="https://www.parliament.nsw.gov.au/researchpapers/Documents/aborigines-land-and-national-parks-in-nsw/02-97.pdf" target="_blank">similar regulatory framework</a> to WA applies in NSW under the National Parks and Wildlife Act 1974.</p><p>There, if a developer is likely to impact cultural heritage, they must apply for an Aboriginal Heritage Impact Permit. The law requires "regard" to be given to the interests of Aboriginal owners of the land, but this vague provision does not mandate consultation.</p><p>What's more, the burden of proving the significance of an Aboriginal object depends upon external statements of significance. But Aboriginal people, not others, should be responsible for determining the cultural significance of an object or area.</p><p>As in WA, the NSW regulatory framework is weak, opening up the risk for economic interests to be prioritized over damage to cultural heritage.</p>
Outdated Laws<p>The federal minister has discretion to assess whether state or territory laws are already effective.</p><p>If they decide state and territory laws are ineffective and a cultural place or object is under threat, then the federal <a href="http://www.austlii.edu.au/cgi-bin/viewdb/au/legis/cth/consol_act/aatsihpa1984549/" target="_blank">Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Heritage Protection Act 1984</a> can be used.</p><p>But this act is also weak. It was first implemented as an interim measure, intended to operate for two years. It has now been in operation for 36 years.</p><p>In fact, <a href="http://ymac.org.au/wp-content/uploads/2013/04/Extracts-from-Evatt-Review-of-the-Aboriginal-and-Torres-Strait-Islander-Heritage-Protection-Act-1984.pdf" target="_blank">a 1995 report</a> assessed the shortcomings of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Heritage Protection Act.</p><p>It recommended minimum standards be put in place. This included ensuring any assessment of Aboriginal cultural significance be made by a properly qualified body, with relevant experience.</p><p>It said the role of Aboriginal people should be appropriately recognized and statutorily endorsed. Whether an area or site had particular significance according to Aboriginal tradition should be regarded as a subjective issue, determined by an assessment of the degree of intensity of belief and feeling of Aboriginal people.</p><p><span></span>Twenty-five years later, this is yet to happen.</p>
By Tara Lohan
The first official tallies are in: Coronavirus-related shutdowns helped slash daily global emissions of carbon dioxide by 14 percent in April. But the drop won't last, and experts estimate that annual emissions of the greenhouse gas are likely to fall only about 7 percent this year.
What lessons can we learn from your research to guide us right now, in what seems like a really critical time in the fight to halt climate change?<p>What a lot of people don't understand is that to limit warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius, we actually have to reduce emissions by around 7-8 percent <em>every single year</em> from now until 2030, which is what the emissions drop is likely to be this year because of the COVID-19 crisis.</p><p>So think about what it took to reduce emissions by that much and think about how we have to do that <em>every single year</em>.</p><p>It doesn't mean that it's going to be some big sacrifice, but it does mean that we need government policy, particularly at the federal level, because state policy can only go so far. We've been living off state policy for more than three decades now and we need our federal government to act.</p>
Where are we now, in terms of our progress on renewable energy and how far we need to go?<p>A lot of people think renewable energy is growing "so fast" and it's "so amazing." But first of all, during the coronavirus pandemic, the renewable energy industry is actually doing very poorly. It's losing a lot of jobs. And secondly, we were not moving fast enough even before the coronavirus crisis, because renewable energy in the<em> best </em>year grew by only 1.3 percent.</p><p>Right now we're at around 36-37 percent clean energy. That includes nuclear, hydropower and new renewables like wind, solar and geothermal. But hydropower and nuclear aren't growing. Nuclear supplies about 20 percent of the grid and hydro about 5 percent depending on the year. And then the rest is renewable. So we're at about 10 percent renewables, and in the best year, we're only adding 1 percent to that.</p><p>Generally, we need to be moving about eight times faster than we've been moving in our best years. (To visualize this idea, I came up with the <a href="https://grist.org/fix/how-quickly-do-we-need-to-ramp-up-renewables-look-to-the-narwhal/" target="_blank">narwhal curve</a>.)</p>
How do we overcome these fundamental issues of speed and scale?<p>We need actual government policy that supports it. We have never had a clean electricity standard or renewable portfolio standard at the federal level. That's the main law that I write all about at the state level. Where those policies are in place, a lot of progress has been made — places like California and even, to a limited extent, Texas.</p><p>We need our federal government to be focusing on this crisis. Even the really small, piecemeal clean-energy policies we have at the federal level are going away. In December Congress didn't extend the investment tax credit and the production tax credit, just like they didn't extend or improve the electric vehicle tax credit.</p><p>And now during the COVID-19 crisis, a lot of the money going toward the energy sector in the CARES Act is going toward propping up <a href="https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2020-05-15/-stealth-bailout-shovels-millions-of-dollars-to-oil-companies" target="_blank">dying fossil fuel companies</a> and not toward supporting the renewable energy industry.</p><p>So we are moving in the wrong direction.</p>
Clean energy hasn’t always been such a partisan issue. Why did it become so polarizing?<p>What I argue in my book, with evidence, is that electric utilities and fossil fuel companies have been intentionally driving polarization. And they've done this in part by running challengers in primary elections against Republicans who don't agree with them.</p><p>Basically, fossil fuel companies and electric utilities are telling Republicans that you can't hold office and support climate action. That has really shifted the incentives within the party in a very short time period.</p><p>It's not like the Democrats have moved so far left on climate. The Democrats have stayed in pretty much the same place and the Republicans have moved to the right. And I argue that that's because of electric utilities and fossil fuel companies trying to delay action.</p>
And their reason for doing that is simply about their bottom line and keeping their share of the market?<p>Exactly. You have to remember that delay and denial on climate change is a profitable enterprise for fossil fuel companies and electric utilities. The longer we wait to act on the crisis, the more money they can make because they can extract more fossil fuels from their reserves <em>and</em> they can pay more of their debt at their coal plants and natural gas plants. So delay and denial is a money-making business for fossil fuel companies and electric utilities.</p>
There’s been a lot of research, reporting and even legal action in recent years about the role of fossil fuel companies in discrediting climate science. From reading your book, it seems that electric utilities are just as guilty. Is that right?<p>Yes, far less attention has been paid to electric utilities, which play a really critical role. They preside over legacy investments into coal and natural gas, and some of them continue to propose building new natural gas.</p><p>They were just as involved in promoting climate denial in the 1980s and 90s as fossil fuel companies, as I document in my book. And some of them, like Southern Company, have continued to promote climate denial to basically the present day.</p><p>But that's not the only dark part of their history.</p><p>Electric utilities promoted energy systems that are pretty wasteful. They built these centralized fossil fuel power plants rather than having co-generation plants that were onsite at industrial locations where manufacturing is happening, and where you need both steam heat — which is a waste product from electricity — and the electricity itself. That actually created a lot of waste in the system and we burned a lot more fossil fuels than if we had a decentralized system.</p><p><span></span>The other thing they've done in the more modern period is really resisted the energy transition. They've resisted renewable portfolio standards and net metering laws that allow for more clean energy to come onto the grid. They've tried to roll them back. They've been successful in some cases, and they've blocked new laws from passing when targets were met.</p>
You wrote that, “Partisan polarization on climate is not inevitable — support could shift back to the bipartisanship we saw before 2008.” What would it take to actually make that happen?<p>Well, on the one hand, you need to get the Democratic Party to care more about climate change and to really understand the stakes. And if you want to do that, I think the work of the <a href="https://www.justicedemocrats.com/" target="_blank">Justice Democrats</a> is important. They have primary-challenged incumbent Democrats who don't care enough about climate change. That is how Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez was elected. She was a primary challenger and she has really championed climate action in the Green New Deal.</p><p>The other thing is that the public supports climate action. Democrats do in huge numbers. Independents do. And to some extent Republicans do, particularly young Republicans.</p><p>So communicating the extent of public concern on these issues is really important because, as I've shown in other research, politicians don't know how much public concern there is on climate change. They dramatically underestimate support for climate action.</p><p>I think the media has a really important role to play because it's very rare that a climate event, like a disaster that is caused by climate change, is actually linked to climate change in media reporting.</p><p>But people might live through a wildfire or a hurricane or a heat wave, but nobody's going to tell them through the media that this is climate change. So we really need our reporters to be doing a better job linking people's lived experiences to climate change.</p>
With economic stimulus efforts ramping up because of the COVD-19 pandemic, are we in danger of missing a chance to help boost a clean energy economy?<p>I think so many people understand that stimulus spending is an opportunity to rebuild our economy in a way that creates good-paying jobs in the clean-energy sector that protects Americans' health.</p><p>We know that <a href="https://www.bbc.com/future/article/20200427-how-air-pollution-exacerbates-covid-19" target="_blank">breathing dirty air</a> makes people more likely to die from COVID-19. So this is a big opportunity to create an economy that's more just for all Americans.</p><p>But unfortunately, we really are not pivoting toward creating a clean economy, which is what we need to be doing. This is an opportunity to really focus on the climate crisis because we have delayed for more than 30 years. There is not another decade to waste.</p>
By Adrienne Santos-Longhurst
Plants are awesome. They brighten up your space and give you a living thing you can talk to when there are no humans in sight.
Turns out, having enough of the right plants can also add moisture (aka humidify) indoor air, which can have a ton of health benefits.
Spider Plant<p>Spider plants are one of the best plants you can buy for increasing indoor humidity, according to <a href="https://krex.k-state.edu/dspace/bitstream/handle/2097/35195/803.full.pdf?sequence=1&isAllowed=y" target="_blank">research</a> from 2015.</p><p>Even NASA agrees. It did a <a href="https://ntrs.nasa.gov/archive/nasa/casi.ntrs.nasa.gov/19930073077.pdf" target="_blank">study</a> in the '80s that found spider plants are able to remove toxins like carbon monoxide and formaldehyde from indoor air.</p><p>Perhaps the coolest part of all? They're super easy to grow.</p><p>Their stems grow long. A hanging container is best so the plant has room to cascade.</p><p>Spider plants grow best in bright, indirect sunlight, so try to keep them near a window that gets a lot of natural light. Aim to keep the soil moist, but not soggy.</p>
Jade Plant<p><a href="https://krex.k-state.edu/dspace/bitstream/handle/2097/35195/803.full.pdf?sequence=1&isAllowed=y" target="_blank">Research</a> shows that a jade plant can increase the relative humidity in a room. Most of its evapotranspiration happens in the dark, making it a good option for increasing humidity during darker months of the year.</p><p>To help keep a jade plant thriving, keep it in a bright spot, like near a south-facing window. As for watering, how much you give it depends on the time of the year.</p><p>The spring and summer is its active growing time, so you'll want to water it deeply, and wait till the soil is almost dry to water it again.</p><p>In the fall and winter, growing slows or stops, so you can let the soil dry completely before watering again.</p>
Areca Palm<p>Palms tend to be great for adding humidity, and the areca palm — also called the butterfly or yellow palm — is no exception.</p><p>They're relatively low maintenance, but they do require lots of sun and moist soil. Keep them near a window that gets a lot of sunlight. Water them enough to keep their soil moist, especially in the spring and summer.</p><p>They can grow up to 6 or 7 feet tall and don't like crowded roots, so you'll need to repot it every couple of years as it grows.<span></span></p>
English Ivy<p>English ivy (<em>Hedera helix</em>) is easy to care for and gives you a lot of bang for your buck because it grows like crazy.</p><p>It's also been <a href="https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s11869-018-0618-9" target="_blank">shown</a> to have one of the highest transpiration rates. This makes it a good option for increasing relative humidity AND removing carbon monoxide from indoor air.</p><p>A hanging basket is best for this small-leafed ivy. It'll grow as long and lush as you let it. To keep it controlled, just prune to the size you want.</p><p>English ivy likes bright light and soil that's slightly dry. Check the soil to make sure it's almost dry before watering again.</p>
Lady Palm<p>The lady palm is a dense plant that's low maintenance when it comes to sunlight and water needs.</p><p>It does best in bright light, but is adaptable enough to grow in low-light spots, too, though at a slightly slower pace.</p><p>Lady palms like to be watered thoroughly once the surface is dry to the touch, so always check the soil before watering.</p>
Rubber Plant<p>The rubber plant isn't as finicky as other indoor tropical plants, making it really easy to care for. Rubber plants also have a high transpiration rate and are great for helping clean indoor air.</p><p>Rubber plants like partial sun to partial shade. They can handle cooler temps and drier soil (perfect for people who tend to kill every plant they bring into the home).</p><p>Let the soil dry before watering again. In the fall and winter months, you'll be able to cut watering in half.</p>
Boston Fern<p>The Boston fern has air-purifying properties that add moisture and remove toxins from indoor air. Did we mention they're lush and gorgeous, too?</p><p>To keep a Boston fern healthy and happy, water it often enough so the soil is always moist, and make sure it gets a lot of indirect sunlight by placing it in a bright part of the room.</p><p>Occasionally misting the fern's leaves with a spray bottle of water can help keep it perky when you have the heat blasting or fireplace going.</p>
Peace Lily<p>Peace lilies are tropical evergreens that produce a white flower in the summer. They usually grow up to around 16 inches tall, but can grow longer in the right conditions.</p><p>A peace lily feels most at home in a room that's warm and gets a lot of sunlight. It takes its soil moist.</p><p>No need to stress if you forget to water it on occasion. It'll handle that better than being overwatered.</p><p>If you have cats, you'll want to keep this plant out of reach or avoid it. Lilies are <a href="https://www.aspca.org/pet-care/animal-poison-control/toxic-and-non-toxic-plants/lily" target="_blank">toxic</a> to our feline friends.</p>
Golden Pothos<p>Golden pothos is also called devil's ivy and devil's vine because it's pretty much impossible to kill. You can forget to water it and even forget to give it light for long periods, and it'll still be green whenever you finally remember.</p><p>That said, it thrives in brighter spaces and does like some water. Let it dry out between watering.</p><p>Its trailing stems grow as long as you want it to, so it's perfect for hanging planters or setting on a higher shelf.</p><p>The higher the better if you have pets, though, since some of its compounds are toxic to dogs and cats… and horses, if you happen to live in a big apartment with really relaxed pet rules.</p>
Dwarf Date Palm<p>Dwarf date palms are also called pygmy date palms. They're perfect as far as plants go. They're basically mini versions of the palm trees you see on tropical postcards.</p><p>They can help keep a room's air clean and increase humidity, and are super easy to maintain.</p><p>They can grow to be anywhere from 6 to 12 feet tall with bright, indirect sunlight and moist — not soaking wet — soil.</p><p>They also prefer a slightly toasty environment, so avoid placing them near a drafty window or source of cold.</p>
Corn Plant<p>The corn plant won't give you an endless supply of corn — just leaves that look like corn leaves and the occasional bloom if you treat it nice. It also helps humidify indoor air and remove toxic vapors.</p><p>Maintenance is easy. Let the top inch or so of soil dry before watering, and keep in a well-lit room where it can get a good amount of indirect sunlight.</p>
Parlor Palm<p>This is another high-transpiration palm that doesn't take any real skill to grow. You're welcome.</p><p>Parlor palms like partial sun, but can manage in full shade, too, as long as you keep the soil consistently moist with a couple of waterings per week.</p><p>To help it grow, make sure it's got enough space in the pot by sizing up every year or two, or whenever it starts to look crowded.</p>
Plants to Avoid<p>Plants are generally good for your environment, but some do have the opposite effect when it comes to humidity.</p><p>These plants tend to draw moisture <em>in</em> instead of letting it out. This doesn't happen instantly, and a couple of plants won't have enough of an effect to really zap the moisture out of your home.</p><p>Still, if you're looking for maximum moisture, you may want to limit these.</p><p>Plants that fall into this category are those that require very little water to survive. Think plants that you find in dry climates, like the desert.</p><p>These include plants like:</p><ul><li>cactuses</li><li>succulents</li><li>aloe vera</li><li>euphorbia, also called "spurge"</li></ul>
Pro Tips<p>If you really want to take advantage of all the moisture and purification these plants offer, here are some tips to consider:</p><ul><li><strong>Size matters.</strong> Plants with bigger leaves typically have a higher transpiration rate, so go bigger to humidify and purify a room.</li><li><strong>The more the merrier.</strong> Have at least two good-sized plants per 100 square feet of space — more is even better.</li><li><strong>Keep 'em close.</strong> Group your plants closer together to increase the humidity in the air and help your plants thrive, too.</li><li><strong>Add pebbles.</strong> If you're dealing with dry indoor air, put your plants on a pebble tray with water to create more humidity for your plants <em>and</em> your room.</li></ul>
The Bottom Line<p>If you're looking to combat dry air in your home and have some space, consider stocking up on some houseplants. Just keep in mind that this is one area where less definitely isn't more.</p><p>For a noticeable impact on the air in your home, try to have at least several plants in each room. If you only have room for a few plants, try to go for larger ones with big leaves.</p>
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