What Happened To The Mohave County Downwinders?

by Laura J. Taylor - Date: 2010-05-26 - Word Count: 643 Share This!

I always get a bit frustrated when I hear that the reason Mohave County was excluded from the Radiation Exposure Compensation Program (also known as the Downwinder program) was because of a "spelling error". My response to that is always the same: Hogwash!! And I heard it again, just recently when Mike Watkiss from Channel 3 in Phoenix reported that the reason hundreds, if not thousands, of Mohave County residents were excluded from being compensated by the government was because the drafter of the 2000 Amendments mistakenly confused Mohave County (in Arizona) with Mojave County (in California), and decided not to include any part of the county for compensation. However, a quick look at the amendments that were made to the RECA in 2000 and 2002 totally discounts this theory.

The Radiation Exposure Compensation Act was passed into law in 1990. The original version of the Act did not include any county in Arizona. On July 10, 2000, the RECA Amendments of 2000 expanded the geographical areas covered under the program to include an additional five counties in Arizona: Yavapai, Coconino, Apache, Gila and Navajo.

Then, on November 2, 2002, President Bush signed the Justice Department's FY2002 Authorization bill, which included several revisions to the program. One of the revisions re-inserted a portion of Mohave County, Arizona (located north of the Grand Canyon) that was inadvertently eliminated when RECA was amended in 2000. Re-inserted a portion of Mohave County? Yes, you read that correctly. There was a mistake made in 2000 when the amendments went into effect, but it was not a spelling error. Rather, a "portion" of Mohave County was completely eliminated from the amendments, and that "portion" was the northern-most part of Mohave County, commonly referred to as the Arizona Strip. The rest of Mohave County was not included, nor was it ever supposed to be included in the 2000 amendments.

And to put to rest another rumor that has been circulating in Mohave County, Dianne Spellberg, an attorney who works with the Department of Justice, never confirmed in a letter to the Mayor of Kingman that the mistake was a "spelling error" as some have indicated recently. There has never been an admission by anyone at the Department of Justice that the mistake was anything other than what it was - the Arizona Strip wasn't included when it should have been.

So why wasn't the rest of the county added to the program in either 2000 or 2002? If a finger needs to be pointed at anyone, I would point to the elected representatives serving Arizona at the time. Senator Orrin Hatch from Utah originally introduced the bill in 1999. Senate Bill 1515 (S.1515) had six co-sponsors with Senator Hatch, including Senators Tom Daschle and Tim Johnson, both from South Dakota, Senators Jeff Bingaman and Pete Domineci, both from New Mexico, Senator Paul Wellstone from Minnesota and Senator Ben Nighthorse Campbell from Colorado. The original text of S.1515 is still available online and nowhere within that text is any mention of any portion of Mohave County, north or south.

What is missing? Well, it does not take a rocket scientist - or a nuclear physicist - to figure out that if no one from Arizona is advocating for a change to the program, then there isn't going to be change. While it is admirable that Congressman Franks from Arizona has finally decided to introduce a bill to the House (after years of pressure put on him by the Mohave County Downwinders), if the bill gets buried in the Judiciary Committee, then the rest of Mohave County will continue to be left out in the cold. And Senator John McCain has hopped on the Mohave County Downwinder bandwagon as well, with his recent submission of legislation in the Senate that duplicates the efforts of Trent Franks.

Change is necessary, and the forgotten Mohave County Downwinders deserve to be compensated.

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