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Cox joins Western governors calling on Congress to expand compensation for downwinders

Cox joins Western governors calling on Congress to expand compensation for downwinders

Gov. Spencer Cox talks to journalists at the Capitol in Salt Lake City on the last night of the legislative session, Friday, March 1, 2024. (Photo by Spenser Heaps for Utah News Dispatch)

Utah Gov. Spencer Cox on Tuesday joined several other Western governors calling on Congress to expand the Radiation Exposure Compensation Act, or RECA, which would widen eligibility for people poisoned by radiation from Cold War era nuclear weapons testing and manufacturing, known as downwinders. 

Cox’s support comes as lawmakers in Washington, D.C., are considering two RECA bills. 

One would extend the deadline for compensation, which is set to expire this June, sponsored by Sen. Mike Lee in the Senate and Rep. Celeste Maloy in the House, both Republicans from Utah. 


The other, sponsored by Missouri Republican Sen. Josh Hawley, would increase compensation, expand eligibility for certain uranium workers, and widen the current definition of an “affected area” to include all of Utah, Arizona, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico and Guam. 

It would also include parts of Hawley’s district near St. Louis, where creek water was contaminated by radiation during nuclear weapons development. 

As of Tuesday evening, Congress has 14 days to pass an expansion or extension before compensation expires on June 10. 

Cox told Utah News Dispatch in a statement that he wants to see the program expanded. 

“We support efforts to expand compensation for those affected by the nuclear testing that occurred throughout the West,” Cox said in the statement. “It’s the right thing to do.”

The statement comes on the heels of a similar push from Western governors urging members of Congress to support Hawley’s bill. On May 1, Republican Wyoming Gov. Mark Gordon, chair of the Western Governors Association, and Democratic New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham, vice chair of the organization, sent letters to several lawmakers asking them to schedule a vote. 

“The bill acknowledges that nuclear weapons production and testing has had much broader effects than currently recognized by statute, and Western Governors encourage you to expeditiously schedule the legislation for consideration by the full House,” reads a letter sent to House Speaker Mike Johnson, a Louisiana Republican, and Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries, a New York Democrat. 

RECA was enacted in 1990 — to be eligible for compensation under the act, Utahns had to prove they contracted certain types of cancer and lived in Beaver, Garfield, Iron, Kane, Millard, Piute, San Juan, Sevier, Washington or Wayne counties for two consecutive years from 1951 to 1958, or during the summer of 1962. 

People who worked in uranium mines, mills or transporting ore in Utah from 1942 to 1971 were also eligible. 

Downwinders could receive $50,000, with uranium workers getting $100,000. 

Lee and Maloy’s bill would extend the same program that’s been in place since 1990. But activists have long claimed the program was too narrow, pointing to ample evidence that all of Utah and other states in the West were downwind from nuclear weapons testing. 

RECA also excludes people who had kidney cancer, certain kinds of leukemia, autoimmune disorders or other diseases that are linked to radiation. And Utahns who worked but didn’t reside in eligible counties or lived just across an eligible county line cannot receive compensation. 

Hawley’s bill, which passed the Senate in March after a bipartisan 69-30 vote, would increase some payouts up to $150,000 while covering people who worked in uranium mines and mills up until 1990, extending the current timeframe by nearly 20 years. Uranium core drillers and remediation workers would also be eligible. 

Hawley has said he hopes the expansion will be added to a bill expanding child tax credits.  

The post Cox joins Western governors calling on Congress to expand compensation for downwinders appeared first on Utah News Dispatch.

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