Ahead of Sunset Date, Luján Continues Longstanding Effort to Seek Justice for Victims and Survivors
Washington D.C. – U.S. Senators Ben Ray Luján (D-N.M.) and Mike Crapo (R-Idaho) introduced bipartisan legislation designed to strengthen the Radiation Exposure Compensation Act (RECA) to compensate individuals exposed to radiation while working in uranium mines or living downwind from atomic weapons tests. U.S. Representative Teresa Leger Fernández introduced similar legislation in the U.S. House of Representatives.
Senator Luján is a longstanding champion of strengthening RECA to cover New Mexico Downwinders. As a member of the House, Luján introduced the legislation in previous sessions and convened meetings between House Leadership and radiation exposure survivors. Luján also secured a Congressional apology in the House-passed National Defense Authorization Acts of Fiscal Years 2020 and 2021. Earlier this year, Luján testified in a key House subcommittee hearing on the urgency of passing updated RECA legislation.
This legislation would update the current RECA program by expanding the geographic downwinder eligibility to include then-residents of New Mexico, Colorado, Idaho, and Montana. This bill would expand eligibility for certain individuals working in uranium mines, mills or transporting uranium ore. It would also increase the amount of compensation an individual may receive and extend the RECA program another 19 years following enactment. RECA is currently scheduled to sunset in 2022.
Additionally, the RECA legislation would provide coverage under additional forms of cancer, increase the compensation from $50,000 to $150,000 for those impacted, and improve benefits for uranium workers and Tribal residents exposed to fallout. Updates made to this version of the bill include an expanded list of radiation-related cancers deemed eligible for compensation, added cost-savings for those attempting to file a claim, and improved date ranges for downwinder eligibility.
“Former uranium miners who are sick and dying, and downwind communities whose air and water were poisoned, deserve to be treated fairly by their government. While there can never be a price placed on one’s health or the life of a loved one, Congress has an opportunity to do right by all of those who sacrificed in service of our national security by strengthening RECA,” said Luján. “For over a decade, I’ve been fighting alongside impacted communities to extend and expand RECA. This is about justice and doing what’s right, and there’s no time to waste.”
“For more than a decade, I have introduced legislation to compensate downwinders, and, sadly, we are losing many to old age and cancer,” said Crapo. “Congress must pass this critical bill while there is still time to assist those still with us.”
“New Mexicans have endured the harmful effects of nuclear testing and uranium mining for decades,” said Representative Leger Fernández. “These aren’t abstract issues for New Mexicans. Our communities, especially communities of color, suffered when we tested nuclear bombs and mined uranium for those bombs on our lands. Our government must right this wrong, we must compensate those who are battling cancer, leukemia and other diseases caused by radiation exposure. This bill does just that. We cannot continue to ignore these injustices. This bill will ensure that those harmed continue to receive compensation and expand the current law to cover communities that have been left behind to deal with the repercussions on their own. It’s time that they receive fair compensation.”
“I am very thankful to Sen. Luján (D-NM), Sen. Crapo (R-ID), and Representative Leger Fernández (D-NM) for championing the bill and supporting the Navajo Nation’s efforts to extend and expand benefits. This bill presents an opportunity for Congress to work with the Navajo Nation, the Navajo Uranium Radiation Victims Committee, and other impacted groups to appropriately extend RECA’s coverage. Now is the time to ensure that this program reaches its full potential in remediating effects of radiation exposure on the Navajo people. The extension of the Radiation and Exposure Compensation Program beyond 2022 and the inclusion of post-1971 uranium workers are two changes that we strongly support. The Navajo Nation stands ready to work together with Congress on the RECA Amendments of 2021 to address our concerns,” said Navajo Nation President Jonathan Nez.
“The introduction of the amendments for the Radiation Exposure Compensation Act is a milestone for the Navajo Uranium workers and their families who have suffered from health-related issues from exposure. The invaluable contributions of our Navajo people and patriotism to the United States of America, not just in their military services, but as civilians through the extraction of Uranium on our homeland for its use in foreign wars to protect the freedom of this country,” said Navajo Nation Speaker Seth Damon. “This has been a collaborative effort between the Navajo Nation, Senator Lujan, Senator Crapo, and Representative Leger Fernandez to get compensation for Navajo Citizens who have suffered for decades.”
“The legacy of uranium mining and extraction activities casts a long shadow on the Navajo Nation. Over the course of four decades, approximately 30 million tons of uranium ore were extracted from our lands, hundreds of mines were developed (and then abandoned), four uranium mill processing sites were in operation, and countless instances of dangerous contamination took place, not the least of which was the radioactive spill into the Puerco River in 1979. Our people were exposed to radiation through the workplace and on the home front, and they paid the price in their health through traumatic illness and premature deaths. The amendments to the Radiation Exposure Compensation Act introduced by Senator Luján and Senator Crapo in the Senate and Representative Leger Fernández in the House are urgently needed to prevent the sunset of this critical program and expand its coverage,” said Navajo Nation Council Delegate Amber Crotty. “The amendments lay a foundation of additional categories of covered diseases and eligible individuals on which we can work together to build out the program so that all impacted Navajo workers, people, and communities are accounted for. We thank the Senators and Representative for their leadership on this issue, and we await the opportunity to advance this bill in the 117th Congress.”
“I’ve been working with Downwinders and Uranium workers from throughout New Mexico for over 16 years now to see us added to the Radiation Exposure Compensation Act. We are the American Citizens that were harmed during the development and testing of nuclear devices. We can no longer be ignored. For anyone to remain complacent knowing this history renders them complicit in the horrible injustice of it all. It’s time the people of New Mexico and other places like Guam and Idaho receive the restorative justice they’ve been waiting on for decades. No matter what the cost,” said Tina Cordova, Co-Founder of the Tularosa Basin Downwinders Consortium. “We thank Senator Luján for his tireless work and dedication to our issue. He is our hero. We will never forget all that he has done.”
“We thank Senator Mike Crapo and Senator Ben Ray Luján for their support for including Downwinders States, Guam and Uranium miners in the RECA bill of 2021. The health benefits and partial restitution will greatly help those affected from exposure to radiation,” said Robert N. Celestial, President for the Pacific Association for Radiation Survivors Guam.
In addition to Senators Luján and Crapo, the legislation is co-sponsored by Senators Jim Risch (R-Idaho), Jacky Rosen (D-Nev.), Catherine Cortez Masto (D-Nev.), Cory Booker (D-NJ), Michael Bennet (D-Colo.), Maggie Hassan (D-N.H.), Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.), and Mark Kelly (D-Ariz.).
Full text of the legislation is available HERE.