Chairman Nadler Statement for the Markup of H.R. 612, the Downwinders Parity Act of 2021
Washington, November 17, 2021
Washington, D.C. - Today, House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler (D-NY) delivered the following opening statement, as prepared, during the markup of H.R. 612. the Downwinders Parity Act of 2021:
"Introduced by our Judiciary Committee colleague, Representative Greg Stanton, H.R. 612, the 'Downwinders Parity Act of 2021,' would update the geographical reach of the Radiation Exposure Compensation Act, or 'RECA,' which provides compensation to certain individuals who lived downwind of atmospheric nuclear tests—people known as 'downwinders.'
"Specifically, the bill would include the southern parts of Clark County, Nevada and Mohave County, Arizona in the program. Currently, only the northern parts of these counties are covered under RECA, and these counties are the only ones to be partially covered under RECA.
"Enacted in 1990, RECA established an administrative claims program within the Department of Justice to provide partial restitution and compassionate compensation to individuals who were harmed by atmospheric testing of United States nuclear weapons and the mining operations that produced the necessary uranium ore.
"To be eligible for compensation under RECA, a person must have been an on-site participant, lived in certain covered downwind counties during a specified time period, or worked as a specified category of uranium mine worker for a certain period of time prior to 1971. In addition, an individual must have contracted certain specified illnesses associated with radiation exposure.
"Starting in the 1940’s with the development of the atomic bomb during World War II, the U.S. government embarked on a decades-long program of nuclear weapons testing and development.
"In the continental U.S., atmospheric testing occurred primarily, but not exclusively, at the Nevada Test Site, where the federal government conducted 100 atmospheric tests during the 1950s and early 60s before the U.S. signed the Limited Nuclear Test Ban Treaty in 1963.
"Coinciding with much of this period was an increase in uranium mining. Thousands of U.S. uranium mine workers—many of whom were Native American—labored to produce the raw materials needed to fuel U.S. atomic weapons development.
"During much of this period, the U.S. government oversaw many mining operations and was the sole purchaser of uranium ore. The U.S. government stopped purchasing uranium for atomic weapons in 1971.
"The federal government was aware of the potential hazards associated with atomic weapons testing and uranium mining, but it failed to warn or adequately protect affected individuals and communities.
"Through a series of court rulings, those who had been harmed by the federal government’s actions with respect to atomic weapons testing were unable to obtain a remedy for their injuries through the judicial system.
"In response, and in acknowledgement of the federal government’s responsibility, Congress passed RECA over thirty years ago and expanded its scope further in 2000.
"The legislative record, however, is unclear as to why Congress excluded downwinders residing in the lower portions of Clark County, Nevada and Mohave County, Arizona from RECA despite their proximity to the Nevada Test Site during the covered periods.
"Given this apparent lack of clarity, their exclusion from RECA seems particularly arbitrary. By adding the southern parts of these counties to the program, H.R. 612 is a long overdue but modest update that would correct this statutory anomaly.
"Indeed, at a hearing held this past March, the Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights, and Civil Liberties heard testimony from Jean Bishop, a Republican member of the Mohave County Board of Supervisors, attesting to the impact of atmospheric nuclear testing on the health of her family and others like hers in the community she represents.
"I would also note that beyond Clark and Mohave Counties, many other downwinders and uranium mine workers affected by the U.S. government’s conduct related to atomic weapons testing and development remain ineligible to receive compensation under RECA.
"Many of these individuals are arguably also similarly situated to others currently eligible under RECA, yet they have been denied the chance for compensation, despite the continuing negative impacts of the government’s atomic weapons development on their health.
"I want to make clear that the Committee’s consideration of H.R. 612 is not the last word on RECA. Today’s markup does not preclude the Committee from considering other legislation proposing additional expansions and reforms to the RECA program at a later date."I would like to thank our colleague, Representative Stanton, for introducing this important bill, and for his leadership and persistence in advocating for the people this legislation would serve. I urge my colleagues to support it."