New Mexico

Colorado delegation, EPA administrator to tour Gold King Mine and host town hall Friday

DURANGO, Colo. – Several of Colorado’s top politicians will hold a joint town hall meeting Friday afternoon directly after they tour the Gold King Mine with Environmental Protection Agency staffers, including the agency’s administrator, Scott Pruitt.

Sens. Cory Gardner and Michael Bennet, Gov. John Hickenlooper, Rep. Scott Tipton and Durango Mayor Dick White will be among those attending the tour and subsequent town hall meeting, which will come a day before the two-year anniversary of the mine spill. Continue reading

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos speaks at ALEC conference in Denver day after protests

DENVER – U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos gave a speech to the conservative American Legislative Exchange Council in Denver around noon Thursday in Denver—one day after hundreds of educators and others protested her appearance at the state Capitol.

DeVos’ speech started just before 12:50 p.m. You can watch a replay of her remarks by clicking here.

DeVos was heavily scrutinized before she was appointed and confirmed as Education Secretary because of her longtime ties to controversial school choice and voucher programs.

DeVos criticized Denver Public Schools in March during a speech at the Brookings Institute in Washington, which ranked the DPS school choice system as tops in the nation for the second straight year this year.

But DeVos implied at the time that DPS was pushing a false agenda when it comes to school choice. She said Denver does not provide parents a voucher program, which the state Supreme Court has twice ruled was unconstitutional.

“Choice without accessibility doesn’t matter, just as accessibility without choices doesn’t matter. Neither scenario ultimately benefits students,” she said.

She also faced criticism from the DPS superintendent, and several of Colorado’s Democratic members of Congress for those comments.

Sens. Michael Bennet and Cory Gardner split their votes to confirm DeVos in early February after weeks of protests against her confirmation. Vice President Mike Pence had to break a tie in the Senate to confirm her as the new education secretary.

Tap the image below for a gallery of images from Wednesday’s protest at the state Capitol, or click here.

EPA pays out $54K more to Colorado for Gold King Mine reimbursement costs

DENVER – Colorado and some local jurisdictions in the southwestern part of the state are getting fractions of what was initially sought in reimbursement money from the Environmental Protection Agency for the August 2015 Gold King Mine spill, but received another $54,000 Thursday.

The EPA said in January that it would not fully repay the 73 claims from both governments and private entities worth $1.2 billion for the spill, which was caused by EPA contractors and hampered communities in southwest Colorado, northwest New Mexico and southeast Utah for months. Continue reading

Colorado Rep. Lamborn’s bill would strip federal funding from NPR, Corp. for Public Broadcasting

WASHINGTON – Colorado Congressman Doug Lamborn introduced two resolutions this week that would strip hundreds of millions of dollars in federal funding from National Public Radio and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting that he says could be better spent on the U.S. military.

The two resolutions brought forth in the House of Representatives, HR 726 and HR 727, are not the first pieces of legislation aimed at defunding public media outlets. Lamborn sponsored a bill in the 112th Congress, which ran from 2010-11, that also stripped funding. It passed the House, but failed in the Senate. Continue reading

Trump’s pick for Air Force secretary, Heather Wilson, an Academy graduate and NM congresswoman

DENVER – President Donald Trump is planning to nominate Heather Wilson as Air Force Secretary.

The White House said Monday it would nominate Wilson, a graduate of the Air Force Academy and former New Mexico congresswoman, to the post.

Wilson served as New Mexico’s 1st congressional district representative from 1998 to 2009 and was the first female veteran elected to Congress. She currently serves as the President of the South Dakota School of Mines and Technology.

She was among the first women admitted to the Academy and eventually became a Vice Wing Commander before graduating as a Distinguished Graduate. She then was selected as a Rhodes Scholar and went to Oxford University.

She served in the Air Force until 1989 until she was picked to serve on National Security Council staff, and later founded a private defense company, Keystone International, and worked in the Gary Johnson administration before being elected to Congress.

While there, she served as chairwoman of the House Subcommittee on Technical and Tactical Intelligence and was a senior member of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, and also served on the House Armed Services Committee.

But she was at the center of a 2015 settlement involving Albuquerque, N.M-based Sandia Labs after she allegedly lobbied members of Congress and the Obama administration for an extension of the contract with the federal government.

She was also paid hundreds of thousands of dollars for consulting with three contractors involved in other federal laboratories, but no one could document her work, according to the Washington Post.

She denied lobbying for the Sandia Labs contract.

“Heather Wilson is going to make an outstanding Secretary of the Air Force. Her distinguished military service, high level of knowledge, and success in so many different fields gives me great confidence that she will lead our nation’s Air Force with the greatest competence and integrity,” President Trump said in a statement.

The same news release said Wilson plans “to strengthen American air and space power to keep the country safe.”


Sign up for Denver7 email alerts to stay informed about breaking news and daily headlines.

Or, keep up-to-date by following Denver7 on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.

Report says throttle malfunction cut engine, caused Thunderbird pilot to crash after Academy flyover

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. – An Air Force Thunderbird that crashed in Colorado Springs after a flyover at the Air Force Academy’s graduation ceremony in June suffered a throttle malfunction before the crash, according to a report from Air Combat Command.

The pilot of the F-16CM Thunderbird, Maj. Alex Turner, reported engine trouble and ejected before the crash. The $29 million airplane went down in a field south of Peterson Air Force Base but was destroyed.

The Accident Investigation Board determined that Maj. Turner had started landing procedures, but “inadvertently rotated the throttle,” which cut the engine.

The board said that normally, a full throttle rotation is impossible unless its trigger is pressed, but it said the trigger was stuck in the “pressed” position because of wear and debris accumulation, according to a new release.

The board says Maj. Turner tried to restart the engine, but was unsuccessful because of how low the plane was flying. It said he put off ejecting until he had brought the plane to a safe landing zone in the field.

Air Combat Command says Maj. Turner had more than 1,200 hours flying F-16s and 1,447 total flight hours. He is still flying with the Thunderbirds.

Maj. Turner met with President Barack Obama, who was attending the Academy’s graduation, shortly after the crash. ABC News reported that the president thanked the pilot for his service and said he was relieved Turner wasn’t seriously injured.


Sign up for Denver7 email alerts to stay informed about breaking news and daily headlines.

Or, keep up-to-date by following Denver7 on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.

More than 20K ballots in Colorado not counted because of signature discrepancies, ID problems

DENVER – More than 21,000 General Election ballots in Colorado weren’t counted because voters either failed to verify discrepancies in their signatures, didn’t sign their ballots or didn’t verify their registration with a form of identification.

The Colorado Secretary of State’s Office certified the state’s election results late last week.

The certified results show 2,859,216 ballots were cast – a number that differed from a spreadsheet released by the office Dec. 5 – before the results were certified – that showed more than 2.88 million ballots had been counted.

The 2016 General Election was the first presidential election in which Colorado used a mail-in ballot system. Registered voters were mailed a ballot weeks before Election Day and had to either mail them back or drop them off at their county clerk’s office or drop-off locations.

Each ballot required a signature that matched the signature on the person’s voter registration form in order to minimize any possible voter fraud. If there were discrepancies, those people had eight days to verify their signatures with their local county clerk after Election Day, lest their ballot not count.

Lynn Bartels, a spokeswoman for the Secretary of State’s Office, said there were a total of 21,408 ballots that were mailed in or dropped off that weren’t counted because of the various discrepancies.

Ballots with signature discrepancies amounted to the largest group that weren’t counted; 16,209 ballots had signatures that weren’t verified.

A total of 2,606 ballots weren’t signed at all, and Bartels said 2,593 ballots weren’t counted because no identification to verify a person’s registration was provided.

Many of the ballots not counted because a person’s identity wasn’t verified likely came from people who registered through voter registration drives or who registered late and needed to provide a copy of a U.S. or Colorado ID in order for their vote to count.

The Secretary of State’s Office turns over the ballots whose signatures weren’t verified to local district attorneys across the state. It is up to them to pursue any possible voter fraud cases, though none have so far been announced.

Despite the somewhat large number of ballots not counted, Colorado still saw a voter turnout of 74.5 percent – up from just under 71 percent in the 2012 presidential election.

Gov. John Hickenlooper has already signed off on the presidential election results and the U.S. Senate race won by Michael Bennet, and has 30 days from Dec. 8 to sign off on the rest of the results. If he fails to do so, the measures passed by voters will become law automatically after the 30-day period.


Sign up for Denver7 email alerts to stay informed about breaking news and daily headlines.

Or, keep up-to-date by following Denver7 on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.

Donald Trump backs off some campaign promises, reinforces others in ’60 Minutes’ interview

DENVER – Americans got their first look at what a Donald Trump White House will look like Sunday in an interview with “60 Minutes,” and the president-elect is already tamping down expectations for some of the promises he made during the campaign season.

Trump’s interview with Leslie Stahl was done last week and released Sunday. The two talked about the election, taxes, the Affordable Care Act, foreign policy, immigration and the economy, among other subjects. Continue reading

PNM working to lure Facebook data center to New Mexico

Facebook appears to be interested in building a new data center in New Mexico, according to filings made with the state Public Regulation Commission Friday by the Public Service Company of New Mexico (PNM).

PNM filed a motion with the PRC Friday asking it to consider fast-tracking an application it filed that would provide Facebook special service rates and allow PNM to build new renewable energy infrastructure specifically for Facebook.

The filing says Facebook approached PNM earlier this year to see what could be done that would entice the company to build a new data center in New Mexico.

In June, a power company in Utah filed a similar application with Utah’s public service commission that is expected to be approved or denied by August 31.

PNM’s filing requests the PRC rule on the fast-tracked application by the same date in order to stay in contention with Utah for the new data center.

“Lengthier regulatory proceedings in New Mexico will jeopardize New Mexico’s chances of [Facebook] selecting New Mexico as the site for its new data center,” the filing says.

But PRC will have to forgo several of its typical procedures in order to approve the application by August 31. PNM’s motion asks the PRC to approve the contract without a public hearing; to vary from its 60-day requirement if no protest to the contract is filed; to shorten the time by which the initial purchase agreement will be approved and to extend a purchase agreement into a long-term agreement after six months.

PNM is looking to initially provide the new renewable energy resources – likely through new solar infrastructure – for 100 percent of Facebook’s possible energy needs, which the utility company would recover from the company.

The agreement also seeks to provide an opportunity to increase infrastructure and power needs should the proposed data center grow over time.

PNM says the initial power procurement would be 30 MW of solar energy, which could increase to 60 MW and possibly 100 MW in the future according to other documents attached in the filing.

“PNM’s filing is a necessary step to ensure that we could meet the very specific needs of the potential new customer.  We regularly participate in state and local economic development efforts to attract new businesses and jobs to New Mexico,” said PNM spokeswoman Ryan Baca. “This is a responsible and creative strategy to support the effort to bring new business and jobs to New Mexico.”

Late last month, the Los Lunas Village Council authorized the first $5 billion of what is likely to be six equally-sized industrial revenue bonds for an internet data company called Greater Kudu, LLC, which is a subsidiary of a larger, yet-undisclosed internet company.

The proposed center in Los Lunas would be built at the 850-acre Huning Ranch business park near I-25 and Highway 6.

It’s unclear if Greater Kudu, LLC is linked to Facebook. Facebook has not yet committed to where it will build its new data center, but a spokesperson said the company is always evaluating potential new sites. More details of the filings can be found here.

Former NM senator will face trial in fraud case

Former New Mexico state senator Phil Griego will face a trial on most of the corruption charges he originally faced regarding his possible profit from a land deal in Santa Fe.

Second Judicial District Court Judge Brett Loveless ruled Friday afternoon that there is probable cause to pursue charges on nine of 10 criminal counts: two counts of violating the ethical principles of public service, one count of bribery, two counts of fraud, one count of perjury, tampering with public records, violating the Financial Disclosure Act and having an unlawful interest in a public contract.

Prosecutors and Griego’s defense attorney discussed the evidence behind the fraud and bribery charges earlier Friday, on the fourth day of the preliminary hearing.

The past two days of the hearing have been held in Santa Fe so state officials, attorneys and lawmakers could testify.

Griego is accused of making around $50,000 off the sale of a state-owned building in Santa Fe without disclosing his involvement to the state legislature.

His attorney has argued that several lawmakers knew of his role as a broker in the deal.

“I am grateful to Judge Loveless for hearing this matter and I am pleased with his ruling that will allow us to pursue justice on behalf of taxpayers,” said New Mexico Attorney General Hector Balderas. “My administration is committed to aggressively combating public corruption in New Mexico and holding the powerful accountable.”

Griego has pleaded not guilty to the charges. It is unclear at this time exactly when the trial will be held.