Reca Extension Act of 2022

Floor Speech

Date: May 11, 2022
Location: Washington, DC

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Mr. COHEN. Mr. Speaker, I move to suspend the rules and pass the bill (S. 4119) to reauthorize the Radiation Exposure Compensation Act.

The Clerk read the title of the bill.

The text of the bill is as follows: S. 4119

Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled, SECTION 1. SHORT TITLE.

This Act may be cited as the ``RECA Extension Act of 2022''. SEC. 2. REAUTHORIZATION OF THE RADIATION EXPOSURE COMPENSATION ACT.

(a) In General.--Section 3(d) of the Radiation Exposure Compensation Act (Public Law 101-426; 42 U.S.C. 2210 note) is amended--

(1) by striking the first sentence and inserting ``The Fund shall terminate on the date that is 2 years after the date of enactment of the RECA Extension Act of 2022.''; and

(2) by striking ``22-year period'' and inserting ``2-year period''.

(b) Limitation on Claims.--Section 8(a) of the Radiation Exposure Compensation Act (Public Law 101-426; 42 U.S.C. 2210 note) is amended by striking ``within 22 years after the date of the enactment of the Radiation Exposure Compensation Act Amendments of 2000'' and inserting ``not later than 2 years after the date of enactment of the RECA Extension Act of 2022''.

Mr. Speaker, S. 4119, the RECA Extension Act of 2022, would extend the life of the Radiation Exposure Compensation Act, which is also known as RECA, a trust fund that needs to be extended by this bill for 2 years after the date of the bill's enactment. Action is urgently needed because the RECA trust fund is currently set to expire on July 10 of this year.

The bill would also extend the time to file a RECA claim to within 2 years after the date of enactment.

Originally passed by Congress in 1990, RECA established a program administered by the Department of Justice to pay one-time compensation to individuals harmed by atmospheric testing of U.S. atomic weapons and to certain uranium mine workers who were harmed as they labored to produce the necessary raw materials for U.S. atomic weapon developments. During its over 30-year history, the RECA program has been improved and supported on a bipartisan basis.

It is my hope that Congress will eventually adopt bipartisan legislation that will further extend the life of the program and expand eligibility to those who have been left out. For now, however, it is important that we extend the RECA trust fund for another 2 years while discussions on these measures continue.

This legislation was introduced by Senator Mike Lee, and it passed the Senate by unanimous consent. Hopefully, we can send it on to the President's desk here in the House.

I thank Representative Greg Stanton, a longtime champion of the RECA program, for his leadership. Through his efforts, the Judiciary Committee--my Subcommittee on The Constitution, Civil Rights, and Civil Liberties--held a hearing and marked up legislation strengthening the RECA program, which helped pave the way for this bill.

I also thank Representative Teresa Leger Fernandez who has been an active champion on this issue for her efforts to preserve and expand the RECA program. I also thank our former Member, now a Senator, Senator Lujan, who brought this to my attention originally. He has been a champion on this issue, too, for the people of New Mexico and the people affected all throughout the Western United States.

Mr. Speaker, I urge my colleagues to vote ``yes'' on S. 4119, and I reserve the balance of my time.
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Mr. COHEN. Leger Fernandez).

Ms. LEGER FERNANDEZ. Mr. Speaker, I thank Chairman Cohen for his and his staff's tireless efforts on behalf of RECA.

Last week, Congressman Owens and I led a bipartisan group of Members to request a vote on S. 4119. I am grateful to Speaker Pelosi and Leader Hoyer for bringing it before us today.

In 1945, the U.S. Government detonated the first atomic bomb at the Trinity test site in New Mexico. The U.S. would go on to conduct more than 200 aboveground nuclear tests throughout the century.

Uranium miners, many of whom are Latino or Native American in my home State, worked without the necessary health and safety protections and are still falling sick from radiation exposure.

Downwinders everywhere who lived in communities around certain test sites continue to suffer from lung cancer, pulmonary fibrosis, and other deadly diseases directly linked to uranium and nuclear radiation.

Too many have fallen sick from lung cancer, pulmonary fibrosis, and other deadly diseases because of the radiation exposure. This is an environmental injustice issue of the most explosive kind.

This injustice necessitated the enactment of the bipartisan RECA in 1990 to provide some compensation for these individuals. As we have all heard today, RECA is set to expire this summer, and we must not let that happen because more than 30 years later, too many downwinders and uranium workers continue to fall ill because of the government's nuclear testing program. They still deserve justice under the law.

In fact, just last week, CDC scientists authored a letter that showed a substantial number of uranium miners could still develop diseases after July that would qualify them for RECA compensation.

That letter points out that some of the cancers are 4,040 percent higher than the standard population. Imagine that. It can only be attributed to the uranium mines and exposure.

S. 4119 will extend RECA as it currently exists for 2 years.

I must note that, yes, every schoolchild knows where the first atomic bomb was exploded, and it was in New Mexico. But for some inexplicable reason, New Mexico was left out as those places where downwinders needed and were eligible for compensation.

As noted by almost every speaker this morning, we must use this time to quickly work on making sure that RECA is corrected so that it applies to all those who are harmed by atomic testing, including in those counties in Arizona, those places in Utah, and those places in New Mexico.

Mr. Speaker, I include the letter titled ``Health burdens of uranium miners will extend beyond the Radiation Exposure Compensation Act deadline'' in the Record. [From Occup. Environ. Med., May 2022] Health Burdens of Uranium Miners Will Extend Beyond the Radiation Exposure Compensation Act Deadline

The US Radiation Exposure Compensation Act (RECA) is a government compensation programme, which provides partial restitution to individuals whose health was affected by nuclear weapons testing or uranium industry employment. RECA covers US uranium miners employed between 1942 and 1971 who developed or died from lung cancer, pulmonary fibrosis, silicosis, pneumoconiosis or pulmonale related to lung fibrosis. RECA is set to terminate this year. The filing deadline for living claimants or spouses of deceased claimants is 10 July 2022. To access evidence of whether uranium miners will continue to develop compensable diseases after the termination of RECA, was examined mortality rate trends within the US Colorado Plateau uranium miner cohort.

The US Colorado Plateau cohort includes 4137 underground uranium miners employed for at least 1 month and with one or more medical screenings between 1950 and 1960. Underlying cause of death was ascertained through 2016 using the US National Death Index. Person time began in 1960 when reference mortality rates were available. Person time ended at date of death, date lost to follow-up or the end of follow-up (2016). The cohort does not include millers or ore transporters. Details on cohort inclusion criteria, vital status, mortality ascertainment, outcome definition and standard population rates reported in a previous study.

We calculated standardised mortality ratios (SMRs) and corresponding 95% CIs overall and by decade of calendar period (1960-1969, . . ., 2000-2009, 2010-2016) for silicosis, interstitial pulmonary fibrosis (IPF) and pneumoconiosis, which are compensable for uranium miners under RECA. SMRs were adjusted for age and calendar period (5-year groups) and racialisation (white or American Indian). Regional standard mortality rates for all outcomes were based on data from New Mexico and Arizona for American Indian Miners.

From 1960 to 2016, there were 64 IPF deaths, 49 pneumoconiosis deaths and 52 silicosis deaths in the cohort. Overall, the IPF mortality rates were 380% higher than the standard population (SMR 4.8; 95%CI 3.7 to 6.1) pneumoconiosis mortality rates were 3860% higher than the standard population (SMR 39.6; 95%CI 29.3 to 52.3), and silicosis rates were 4040% higher than the standard population (SMR 41.4; 95%CI 30.9 to 54.3).

For all three causes of death, rates were higher in more recent calendar periods. IPF rates were lowest in 1960-1969 (observed=2, SMR=2.0; 95%CI 0.2 to 7.1) and highest in 2010- 2016 (observed=12, SMR=68.7; 95%CI 35.4 to 120.0) but remained substantially elevated in the 2010-2016 period (observed=13, SMR=56.4, 95%CI 30.0 to 96.4). Silicosis mortality was also elevated in later calendar periods, with the highest SMR in 1980-1989 (observed=17, SMR=75.7; 95%CI 44. to 121.2). In 2010-2016, silicosis mortality rates remained substantively higher than the standard population (observed=6, SMR=61.5; 95%CI 22.4 to 133.8).

While the majority of US uranium mining activities ceased by the mid-1990's, the health effects of uranium mining persist. An important public health implication of our SMR analysis is that former uranium miners in the US continue to die of IPF, silicosis, and pneumoconiosis at a far higher rate than the comparable general population over our period of study; SMRs are elevated overall, increase with advancing calendar period and persist over time. This analysis suggests that former uranium miners will develop RECA-eligible diseases after RECA ends.

The inferences from these SMRs extend beyond the Colorado Plateau cohort. The Colorado Plateau uranium miner cohort represents only a small sample of the total US uranium miner population. The uranium industry employed tens of thousands of workers,\1\ perhaps as many as 30,000 workers minded uranium under-ground.\4\ So, the Colorado Plateau cohort represents only about 5%-15% of the total uranium miner population. This figure does not include the population of uranium millers, surface miners and ore transporters, who are also eligible for RECA funds. Based on the SMRs by calendar period and estimates of the total uranium miner population, it is expected that we will continue to observe many IPF, silicosis, and pneumoconiosis deaths in this group of workers after the planned termination of RECA. Although only 11% of the cohort was still alive at the end of 2016 and the median age of surviving miners over 80, there are younger RECA- eligible miners not in our Colorado Plateau cohort. The latest year of hire in the cohort was 1960, while RECA- eligible miners could have been hired through 1971. It is difficult to accurately estimate the number of miners that would be affected by the termination of RECA, but the approximations above indicate that a substantial number of miners could still develop compensable diseases.

This analysis was limited by using cause of death data rather than disease incidence data. Although these respiratory diseases are highly fatal, there are likely more miners in the cohort who developed these diseases but did not have deaths attributed to them. And, based on the long latency and induction periods of these respiratory diseases we expect additional incident cases to occur. This analysis is also limited because mortality follow-up only extends through 2016. But even if SMRs started to decrease subsequent to 2016, they would still likely be in excess compared with the standard population after 10 July 2022 when RECa terminates given that these SMRs have been substantially elevated since at least 1970, and for IPF, the number of observed cases appears to have increased since that time.

This analysis is based on uranium miners first employed between 1950 and 1960, but more contemporary miners are also at elevated risk of respiratory disease. Although they may be exposed at a lower intensity, these miners were still exposed to radon, silica dust and other agents that increase the risk of developing RECA-compensable diseases. A recent study from the large international Pooled Uranium Miner Analysis showed that miners first hired 1965 or later experience elevated lung cancer (observed=856, SMR=1.34; 95%CI 1.26 to 1.44).\5\ Clinical data also indicated that workers employed after 1971 have a high burden of respiratory disease.\6\

The examination of non-malignant respiratory mortality rates in the Colorado Plateau cohort indicates that uranium mining conditions still cause a considerable health burden to workers that will continue into the foreseeable future. RECA has been amended in the past to be more consistent with scientific results, although these amendments were delayed.\4\ This study finds that there will likely be more uranium miners who develop occupational disease after the planned termination of RECA benefits.

Ms. LEGER FERNANDEZ. I urge my colleagues to similarly support the passage of the RECA extension as was done in the Senate.

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Mr. COHEN. Titus).

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Mr. COHEN. Mr. Speaker, we reiterate that the trust fund expires on July 10 with the need for this vital program to remain present in law. The Representatives from Arizona, New Mexico, and Nevada have all made that clear, as have others.

Madam Speaker, I urge my colleagues to vote ``yes'' on this important legislation. Now that the gentlewoman from Nevada (Ms. Titus) has taken the chair, I yield back the balance of my time and ask for a positive ``aye'' vote.

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