Utah, New Mexico and Missouri Downwinders Reject Senator Lee’s “Half-Baked” Effort to Limit RECA

Bill Would Exclude Some Uranium Workers, Parts of NM, AZ

Published May 23, 2024

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Senator Mike Lee (R-Utah) today introduced what the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) called “a half-baked effort” to enhance and extend the Radiation Exposure Compensation Act (RECA), without the support of frontline communities. S.4403 recognizes the need to expand RECA and increase compensation but continues the historical wrong of excluding people in severely exposed communities impacted by radiation exposure, including post-1971 uranium workers, and downwinders in places like southern Arizona and parts of New Mexico. The measure failed following objections from Sen. Hawley (R-Mo) and Sen. Lujan (D-NM).

Senator Lee's time and energy would be better spent pressuring House Speaker Mike Johnson (R-La.) to bring the previously passed bipartisan RECA Senate bill to the House floor for a vote, according to UCS and downwinders.

“We are baffled by Lee’s bill,” said Mary Dickson, a journalist and cancer survivor from Salt Lake City, Utah. “In 2022, he passed a bill extending the flawed RECA program for two more years. In that time, even though I have met with his staff several times to discuss these issues, he has done nothing to improve the program for Utah. He’s obviously feeling pressure from constituents, but the more inclusive bill we support has already been passed with a strong bipartisan vote in the Senate. Instead of supporting that bill and encouraging Utah representatives in the House to do the same, Senator Lee is wasting time we don’t have. The best thing he could do for Utah and our country is support S.3853.”

“Senator Lee has put forward bills that are not a solution for the problem at hand, and as far as I’m concerned this is nothing more than a ploy,” said Tina Cordova, executive director of the Tularosa Basin Downwinders Consortium in New Mexico and a cancer survivor. “An extension of a program that never went far enough is not a solution, it is an easy way out. The Downwinders of Utah and the uranium workers in Utah see through this and so do all the other people that are left out of Senator Lee’s bill. We don’t need more studies, we have plenty. The time for that has long since passed. What we need is help now. I’ve been doing this work as an advocate for 19 years, and I don’t know anyone who would support this bill.”

“The Senator from Utah and I agree that the people of Utah deserve justice,” said Luján. “And I and others agree that those impacted in other states deserve justice as well, but today’s exercise is not the answer. It’s time for the House to act. I urge my colleagues to stand by the piece of legislation we passed this year in the Senate with a broad bipartisan coalition of 69 yes votes and do right by the victims of radiation and uranium exposure.”

“We do not support any attempt to exclude other impacted communities harmed by our government’s early nuclear weapons program,” said Christen Commuso, a community outreach specialist with the Missouri Coalition for the Environment and a cancer survivor. “While we are glad to see Senator Lee finally supports expanding the RECA program — especially to include areas in Missouri — his version is still too limited. We believe Senator Hawley's already-passed Senate bill better reflects the scope of the problem and is the best path forward. That's why we hope Speaker Johnson will put S.3853 on the House floor for a vote without further delay. We've all been waiting long enough."

“I'm glad we're willing to acknowledge, finally, that indeed, there are those that have suffered, Americans who have been poisoned by their government, who have never been compensated, and it's basic justice to compensate them,” said Hawley on the Senate floor today. “The Senator talks about getting this done today - it's been done! The Senate has done it. We passed this bill with nearly 70 votes months ago. I urge the Senator to use his good offices in the House to speak to Speaker Johnson. I urge the Senator to use his good offices - now that we all agree - to get this done in the US House of Representatives. That's where the obstacle is. But I reiterate, I will not be party to any attempt at some halfway measure, some short stop-gap bill, or some effort to sweep this under the rug, not anymore. The victims have waited too long.”

“Uranium miners were the core of nuclear weapons production and are now the core of radiation victims. They must be included in RECA for any sort of justice to be served,” said Phil Harrison, a former uranium worker and member of the Navajo Nation. “These are the people who labored in unsafe conditions to make nuclear weapons possible. To this day many of them are still being diagnosed with lung disease. RECA already has stringent requirements – people must be dying to receive compensation. We cannot wait any longer for our government to do the right thing. While Congress delays, we are still dying.”

Lee previously introduced S. 4175 in April to only extend the existing insufficient RECA program by two years. The bill was met with widespread condemnation from impacted communities.