Support for those exposed to radiation extended for two years - Albuquerque Journal

Support for those exposed to radiation extended for two years

Both aisles of New Mexico’s congressional delegation last week championed a two-year extension of a law that provides compensation to certain people exposed to radiation.

The Radiation Compensation Exposure Act provides money for people who develop “cancer or other diseases after exposure to atomic weapons testing or contact with uranium.” The 1990 law, which has provided $2.5 billion to more than 39,000 people who filed complaints, was set to sunset this summer. Congress extended it to May 2024.

Sen. Ben Ray Luján, D-N.M., said the extension is significant, in part, because it gives two more years to try to expand the scope of who qualifies for compensation under RECA. Luján has tried to amend the law to include people who worked in uranium mines after 1971 and people who suffered ill effects after living downwind of nuclear weapons tests.

He and Sen. Mike Crapo, R-Idaho, have introduced a bill that would double the compensation available and expand the eligibility of who qualified.

“I will do everything I can to continue to extend this program. This gives us two more years to amend it, strengthen it and then pass it with more permanency as well,” Luján said in an interview. “The thing no one’s ever been able to answer for me is, ‘How was a community where the first bomb was tested on soil left out of downwind protections?’ ”

Rep. Yvette Herrell, R-N.M., who is often at odds with the state’s Democratic delegation, supported the extension. And she said in a statement that she also is in favor of expanding eligibility to downwinders and more uranium miners.

“My constituents – the uranium miners, mill workers, uranium ore transporters, and those who lived downwind of atmospheric nuclear tests, deserve our thanks and assistance, and I am proud to have fought for this legislation,” she said.

MINING LAW REFORM: To mark the 150th anniversary of the General Mining Act, Sen. Martin Heinrich, D-N.M., recalled the 2015 Gold King Mine spill, when 3 million gallons of acid mine water poured into the Animas and then San Juan rivers, crossing multiple states before the plume dumped into Lake Powell.

“The images that resulted as the Animas River flowed south out of Colorado into New Mexico, subsequently into the Navajo Nation, of that river the color of Tang,” Heinrich said at a news conference about the Clean Energy Minerals Reform Act.

Heinrich and Rep. Raúl M. Grijalva, D-Ariz., have introduced the bill, which would reform the 150-year old law and require mining companies to pay royalties to taxpayers, and dedicate a portion of their income to reclamation efforts.

“Isn’t it time we had a 21st-century approach to mining in this country? Especially at a moment when we’re seeing increased efforts to create domestic supply for many of these minerals,” Heinrich said.

HOUSE TAKES UP UKRAINE AID: Herrell stood out in Congress on a vote this week to provide $40 billion to Ukraine. The bill passed easily, but Herrell was one of 57 House Republicans who voted against the aid, which will now go to the Senate for consideration.

She said in an interview on Newsmax that she voted previously for a smaller Ukraine aid package and she supported Russian sanctions.

“It’s very hard to explain to the American people how we’re having these prices at the pump, this inflation that is skyrocketing and that we’re not putting the American people first,” she said.

Ryan Boetel: rboetel@abqjournal.com

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