A community advocacy newspaper for northern New Mexico
Box 6 El Valle Route, Chamisal, NM 87521
Book Review: Roots of Resistance: A History of Land Tenure in New Mexico By Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz Reviewed by Mark Schiller and Kay Matthews
Editorial: Has It Come Down to "Us versus Them"? By Kay Matthews
Nuclear Workers Struggle with an Unworkable Claims Process By Mark Schiller
Reviewed by Mark Schiller and Kay Matthews
The University of Oklahoma Pres recently published a new edition of Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz' Roots of Resistance: A History of Land Tenure in New Mexico. This book, first published in 1980 and long out of print, is a seminal work that provides a penetrating analysis of how a succession of conflicting land tenure patterns and practices dispossessed and disenfranchised the indigenous people of New Mexico. It is both a socioeconomic and legal study that attempts to strip away the often romantic and condescending historical portrayals of the Mexican villagers and Pueblo Indians by demonstrating "The history of land tenure in northern New Mexico provides a case study of the processes of colonialism and the development of capitalism."
Roxanne Dunbar Ortiz reading La Jicarita News
Mark Rudd at Roxanne Dunbar Ortiz's book signing in Taos
Dunbar-Ortiz begins with a discussion of pre-colonial pueblo land tenure, which she suggests was predicated on intensive irrigation farming. This practice provided a non-codified, customary system of governance that engendered a democratic distribution of a scarce resource. The pueblos were devastated by Spanish colonization that imposed a feudal system, or encomienda (a royal grant to a Spanish elite of Indian labor collectible in material tribute or personal service), a form of serfdom upon the pueblo people. "By 1643, only 43 pueblos remained inhabited, less than half as many as at the time of colonization," Dunbar-Ortiz notes.
After the Pueblo revolt in 1680, which was largely caused by resentment against the enslavement of the encomiendas, the Spanish governors realized they had to find a more workable system in which the pueblos, genizaros (Christianized and Hispanicized pueblo and plains Indians) and mestizos (people of mixed Spanish and Native American ancestry) were granted a measure of autonomy in the form of community land grants. The grants provided settlers with citizenship status and arable land in settlements along the frontiers of the interior villas of Santa Fe, Albuquerque, and Santa Cruz de la Cañada, in exchange for providing protection from the incursions of nomadic tribes such as the Comanches and Utes.
This largely democratic land tenure practice was undermined by what Dunbar-Ortiz terms "the conquest of merchants" flowing into New Mexico along the Santa Fe Trail from 1821 to 1848: "More than merely a port of entry, Santa Fe was an important trade center; the effect of the trade on the New Mexico economy was radical. Not only did the province turn away economically from Chihuahua and central Mexico, but new values, most importantly exchange values, were replacing use values. . . .The Santa Fe trade made the province of New Mexico richer but it was the elite who benefitted, while the villagers and Pueblos, who lived by subsistence agriculture and barter, were increasingly impoverished by the introduction of exchange values and money." The introduction of money paved the way for a mercantile system of credit and debt that in essense consigned the villagers to a life of servitude.
Following closely on this economic transition the U. S. government, under the pretext of the expansionist policy of Manifest Destiny, instigated a colonialist invasion of the northern half of Mexico. As a territory of the United States, New Mexico experienced what Dunbar-Ortiz describes as "a conquest of agriculture and subsistence producers, with accompanying appropriation of their lands, resources, and labor." Resources such as water, grazing lands, timber, and minerals that had been shared in common were commodified and monopolized by the Anglo capitalists who flooded into the territory. Rather than protecting the property rights of the Mexican communities as outlined in the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, federal bureaucrats, assigned the task of determining the legitimacy of Spanish and Mexican land grants, actually colluded with the land speculators to misappropriate them. Then, according to Dunbar-Ortiz, "When land monopolists overreached themselves, the government stepped in not to protect the property interests of the Spanish and Mexican land grantees under the Treaty, but rather to protect its own interest in maintaining control over the public domain. An integral part of the development of capitalism is the role of the state in limiting the accessions of individual monopolists that could hinder the flow and circulation of capital necessary for its continued growth."
In chapter Six, "Land Tenure Under Capitalism," Dunbar-Ortiz continues the story of capitalist expropriation of land in the 20th century. By the 1930s none of the settlements of northern New Mexico was self-subsistent. "By World War II the average acre of irrigable lands for the Anglo-American in the Middle Rio Grande Valley was 50 to 200 acres compared with an average of 5 to 15 acres for the . . . Mexican farmer." New Mexico was further pushed into the capitalist economy by the establishment of the nuclear industry, both weapons production and uranium mining.
Dunbar-Ortiz added an additional chapter to the new edition, "Land, Indigenousness, Identity, and Self-Determination," that attempts to explain the lingering animosity between the pueblos and the Indo-Hispano community. While she notes that there are substantive reasons for this enmity, she believes that theirs is a united cause and that the focus must be on the "relationship of the former agricultural producers to capital, not just on the cultural relationship of Mexicans or Pueblo Indians to Anglo Americans."
Roots of Resistance is available through the University of Oklahoma Press (oupress.com) and local bookstores.
By Kay Matthews
A recent study called "Climate Change and Its Implications for New Mexico's Water Resources and Economic Opportunities" confirms all our-meaning those of us who care about conserving our water resources and distributing them equitably-worst fears. They warn us that water transfers from agriculture to urban use, the path the others-meaning state water officials, water lawyers, and developers-would have us go down will hugely impact not only our ability to grow food in the future but our "environment, our identity, and the character of New Mexico. . . . Irrigated lands support more than crops. They provide habitat for wildlife, open space and scenic vistas for the backdrop to New Mexico's thriving art, tourist and recreation economies."
According to the study's authors, NMSU Agricultural Economics Professor Brian Hurd and UNM Civil Engineering Professor Julie Coonrod, "Under current climate there is virtually no spare water in New Mexico. Imagine a very plausible future, as this study attempts, of significantly less water and at the same time significantly more people."
No problem for the powers that be. If there are too many people and not enough water then you simply buy up water rights and move the water-or more often, the right to use the water, which exists only on paper-to where the people are.
The Spanish dicho that expresses our feelings about water, El Agua es Vida, meaning water is a basic human right and resource and not for sale, translates into their English as "The highest and best use," meaning it is a commodity for sale to the highest bidder.
Apparently that's the option the Town of Taos insists on retaining by refusing to sign on to the Taos Regional Water Plan and Public Welfare and Conservation Statement. I've covered the town's attempts to scuttle the plan in previous La Jicaritas, but the three- and a half-hour town council meeting on November 21st to vote on the plan was the penultimate farce. The two progressive council members, Darren Córdova and Rudy Abeyta, did everything in their power to get the council to approve the plan so that it can go before the Interstate Stream Commission (ISC), the state bureaucracy that oversees the 16 regional water plans promulgated to supposedly manage water in a sustainable fashion at the regional level. Approval of the Taos Water Plan, the last one to be released, will give the citizens of the Taos area the oversight tools to manage their water to ensure its quality and quantify for present and future use. Without a plan in place, the Town of Taos risks losing $3.1 in funding from the Water Trust Board, the state agency that decides who will get how much water earmarked for projects by the state legislature. Requests for projects in areas without a regional water plan receive lower scores on a 10-point criteria.
But councilors Meliton Struck, Erlinda Gonzales, and mayor Bobby Duran refused to approve the public welfare statement because like the others, they don't want any oversight regarding transfers and purchases of water. Apparently they believed the ISC would approve the plan without the public welfare statement and the town would get its funding for water projects.
Councilor Córdova subsequently released a statement regarding the outcome of the meeting: "Keep in mind that this public welfare statement . . . is a reflection of public opinion. After soliciting public comment for two years and now not including the public welfare statement is an insult to the steering committee, the County's efforts and ultimately a direct insult to public opinion on the issue. As elected officials when we solicit public input we must become the voice of the public in our policy making. The Public Welfare Statement is crucial in assuring public awareness and participation on water rights transfers in the Taos region. . . . It is extremely disappointing that the Mayor, Town Manager [Tomás Benavidez, who has been the key player in opposing the public welfare statement] and Council members Struck and Gonzales would play political tug-of-war and political games with a most crucial issue such as the future of our water resources."
ISC director Estevan Lopez attended the Taos council meeting. He has been lobbied long and hard by opponents of the public welfare statement, such as Benavidez and Jim Brockmann, attorney for El Prado Water and Sanitation District, which also is in the market for water rights and opposes the welfare statement.
The Taos Regional Water Plan was presented to the ISC on Wednesday, November 28 at the Roundhouse, and as expected, the committee voted to delay approval of the Plan, including the Public Welfare and Conservation Statement, until "the parties can reach consensus." There will never be consensus between us and them, of course, because they want there to be unconstrained water markets while we believe that oversight and public awareness are critical to the public welfare.
Apparently State Engineer John D'Antonio also believes in unconstrained water markets. During the hearing he admonished us for not reaching consensus and insisted that the current process, whereby water rights holders can protest transfer applications on the basis of three criteria-impairment, conservation, and public welfare-is perfectly adequate. Of course there is no case law that defines what public welfare is, which is why the regional water plans were mandated to help define that concept. Apparently D'Antonio thinks that his office can continue to make these decisions without local involvement and in a process that is extremely burdensome to those who must hire lawyers to represent them at protest hearings that often drag on for years.
When ISC director Estevan Lopez asked Alan Vigil, former Taos County Planner and chair of the Regional Water Plan Steering committee, if Taos County was likely to establish a public welfare advisory committee regardless of whether the ISC approves the plan and public welfare statement, Vigil answered: "We don't have 40 years to come up with consensus. We're going to go ahead with public welfare implementation." Taos County Attorney Sammy Pacheco, while more politic in his answer, "We'll wait to see what the ISC committee decides," expressed that the plan and public welfare statement have the full support of the county commission.
The day before the ISC hearing on the Taos Regional Water Plan, the Legislative Committee on Water and Natural Resources also met at the Roundhouse to hear a report from the Office of the State Engineer and ISC regarding the status of the three New Mexico Indian water rights claims: Navajo/San Juan River Basin; Aamodt (Pojoaque, Tesuque, Nambe and San Ildefonso Pueblos); and the Abeyta (Taos Pueblo). The committee also invited attorney Victor Marshall to be on a panel regarding the Navajo settlement. Marshall represents the non-Indian San Juan Agricultural Water Users who are not included in the Navajo settlement negotiations and who object to the settlement terms.
It became immediately apparent that many of the legislators on the committee also objected to the terms of the settlement when they heard the price tag for the Navajo settlement: $900 million (up from the more recent figure of $800 million), of which the state will have to contribute $25 million. Some of them were also shocked at how much water the Navajos are entitled to under the settlement: 55% of the San Juan River water rights in New Mexico for the Navajo Irrigation Project and the Navajo-Gallup Pipeline. Again, no problem for the powers that be. They'll continue to issue new hydrologic determinations that increase the amount of water in the basin available for use, from 508 million acre feet per year (afy) in 1983 to 606.2 million afy in 2007 (the latest hydrologic determination is partly based on the questionable assumption that because less water is evaporating from drought-shrunken reservoirs in the basin more water is actually available for diversion).
Discussion of the terms of the Navajo settlement alone took up all the committee's allotted time. Above and beyond their concerns about the money and amount of water involved, members of the committee had a hard time wrapping their heads around two other big issues: 1) The settlement does not prevent the Navajo Nation from exporting its water to other states, and although it would have to get a permit from New Mexico to do so, if it were denied it would undoubtedly go to court over the issue; and 2) The non-Indian water rights holders in the San Juan Basin have not been included in the negotiated settlement, and before a final decree is issued in the San Juan adjudication the case will have to come back to state district court to adjudicate the rights of these 8,000 people on community ditches.
Even more disturbing than the fact that the committee has not been adequately prepped by the OSE on the terms of the Indian settlements, it was obvious that the OSE and ISC legal teams are the power behind these settlements. When Marshall told the committee members that he is not a "water lawyer," per se, and that their common sense questions regarding very complicated and "incoherent" water law need to be asked, and that water policy needs to be made by the legislature, the response by the cabal of "real lawyers," the others, was to question his legitimacy.
Their conduct must have rattled some of the legislators because the hearing ended with the chair, Senator Phil Griego, asking State Engineer D-Antonio: "Does the Legislature have any authority to change the terms of these settlements?" D'Antonio searched around for an answer that wouldn't directly admit that no, it doesn't, until Griego again demanded, "Do we have any authority?" It was OSE lead counsel D.L. Sanders who finally answered his question: The will of the legislature is heard by providing or not providing its share of the funding to implement these settlements. With that, Griego announced that his committee, along with the finance committee, needed to devote at least a day's hearing on the three settlements to "see if they are a good deal for the state."
Those of us, who believe that many components of the settlements are not a "good deal," need to contact members of the committee so we may be heard at any future hearings.
The Court of Appeals has agreed to grant the interlocutory appeal in the Hernández/Gavilan case by New Mexico Legal Aid, which represents the Hernández ditch in Richard Cook's challenge to the acequias' denial of his water rights transfer requests (see La Jicarita, October 2007). Attorneys for the acequias can now ask the court to uphold and interpret the new law allowing acequia commissions to approve or disapprove transfer requests as written.
La Jicarita Watershed & Wastewater Study Committee meets every month on the first Wednesday of the month at 6:00 p.m. at the Vadito Community Center. The committee is now looking into centralized and decentralized options for wastewater disposal systems for Chamisal and Vadito, which have been chosen to participate in two pilot projects. The committee is pursuing funding for Preliminary Engineering Reports for the two projects that will look at wastewater solutions and outline potential costs to the communities. The committee encourages everyone in the watershed to attend the meetings, particularly members of the mutual domestic associations and the acequias. For more information contact chairperson Tanya Leherissey at 587-2063.
The Quivira Coalition's 7th Annual Conference, "Building Resilience: Creating Hope in an Age of Consequences," will be held on Thursday through Saturday, January 17-19, 2008, at the Marriott Pyramid in Albuquerque. This year's conference focuses on The Basics: Ecology, Food and Energy and will include speakers such as Wes Jackson of the Land Institute, a leader in sustainable agriculture; Mark Sardella of the Post-Carbon Institute and Co-founder of Local Energy, a leader in renewable energy; and David Western, Kenyan conservationist and Chairman of the African Conservation Centre. Navajo sheepherders will also present "Sheep is Live." The cost of the conference is $85 for Quivira Coalition members and $110 for non-members (a special student rate is $35). You can register by sending a registration form by January 11 via mail to The Quivira Coalition, 1413 2nd St. Ste #1, Santa Fe, NM 87505, on the website at www.quiviracoalition.org, or late registration ($20 additional fee) on Wednesday evening at the conference.
Albuquerque based Southwest Network for Environmental & Economic Justice (SNEEJ) will be sponsoring the Third Annual Environmental Justice Awareness Day on Friday, January 18 at the State Capitol Rotunda from 10:30-2:00. Throughout the years undesirable land use policies and practices have resulted in many adverse health effects in low-income communities of color. In 1991, an Environmental Protection Agency review confirmed that racial and ethnic minorities were disproportionately located near hazardous facilities and also suffered from disproportionate exposures to air pollutants, agricultural pesticides, contaminated fish, and adverse effects from exposure to lead. During Environmental Justice Day from 12:00 to 1:00 speakers from throughout New Mexico will address environmental injustices within their communities. SNEEJ will also be conducting Educational Trainings of the New Mexico State Legislature. SNEEJ is asking for your support of Environmental Justice Awareness Day:
List your organization on the Environmental Justice Awareness Day flyer.
Promote EJ Awareness Day by distributing e-mails and flyers announcing the activity.
Volunteer to lead an Educational Training of the New Mexico State Legislature.
Organize a delegation to attend the EJ Awareness Day.
Make a financial contribution by buying an ad in the EJ Awareness Day Program. The money raised will be used to buy food for the Reception and to assist community members to attend the activity.
Please contact Bianca Encinias if you would like to endorse the Third Annual Environmental Justice Awareness Day: 505 242-0416 or via e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
By Mark Schiller
In the October 2007 issue of La Jicarita News I wrote an article about the dysfunction and corruption that pervades the administration of the program to compensate workers who have developed cancer and respiratory diseases as a result of being exposed to radiation and other toxic substances while working in federal nuclear weapons facilities. This month I'm going to follow up on that article by detailing the frustrating process a claimant seeking compensation must negotiate and how this compares to another government compensation program for victims of radiation exposure.
This information is based on the case of a former Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) employee, who wishes to remain anonymous, and was supplied by Dr. Maureen Merritt, a former U.S. Public Health Service doctor who provides advocacy services for Energy Employee Occupational Illness Compensation Act (EEOICPA) claimants and has been instrumental in drawing attention to the inequities of the claims system.
EEOICPA created two programs through which claimants can seek compensation: Part B which provides a one time compensation package of $150,000 plus medical expenses for workers who have contracted one of twenty-two designated cancers because of job related radiation exposure; and Part E, which provides up to $250,000 for lost wages and disabilities that resulted from job related employment. The Department of Labor (DOL), which administers the EEOICPA claims program (The Department of Energy administered the EEOICPA claims program until November 2005 when, because of numerous instances of incompetence and corruption, Congress transferred administration to the DOL.), operates Resource Centers (RC) near nuclear weapons facilities throughout the country that are supposed to help claimants initiate their claims and guide them through the process. However, according to Dr. Merritt and other EEOICPA claimant advocates, RC staffers have been expressly warned not to do advocacy for the claimants. In fact, both Dr. Merritt and Dr. Ken Silver, a professor of Environmental Health who worked as a consultant to the environmental health project at UNM for six years and recently testified before a Senate committee investigating complaints about EEOICPA, cite numerous cases in which RC staffers were "rude, inconsiderate," and made claimants feel as is they were "asking for a handout."
In the case we're examining the claimant is a 61 year-old male who had worked at LANL for 30 years when he was diagnosed with colon cancer, one of the twenty-two cancers covered under EEOICPA. In 2001, after surgical removal of a portion of his colon and a year of chemotherapy, which left him incapacitated (constant nausea, memory loss, joint and muscle pain and general weakness), the claimant filed an EEOICPA compensation claim with the "help" of the RC in Española.
Things went badly from the start. The intake staff got the claimant's Social Security number wrong on his application causing serious delays and missed deadlines. Between the claimant's initial application in 2001 and 2006, when a decision was rendered, the Resource Center never updated the claimant on the progress of his claim and contacted him only once, via telephone, for additional information. In early 2006, during the changeover in administration from DOE to DOL, the Resource Center informed the claimant that all his records had been lost, causing further delays. When Dr. Merritt wrote a letter on the claimant's behalf in February of 2007 requesting all pertinent information regarding the claimant's application, the RC never responded.
Dr. Merritt also notes that during the claimant's initial interview he was extremely weak and confused because of his cancer and the treatments he was receiving for it. The RC staff, she told me, made no effort to help him develop an accurate history of his exposure, which is a critical component of the Dose Reconstruction program that determines compensation eligibility under Part B of EEOICPA. (The Dose Reconstruction program theoretically constructs a history of the claimant's radiation exposure based upon information about the facility in which the claimant worked and personal interviews about where and when he worked in that facility. It then attempts to determine the "probability" of whether the claimant's cancer was caused by that exposure.) Moreover, when she sent a Freedom of Information Act request via registered mail to the DOL office in Washington D.C. requesting all records related to the claimant's Dose Reconstruction, she received no response despite numerous follow-up calls to all the agencies involved. Dr. Merritt also told me that while the claims process forces the claimant to adhere to strict short-term deadlines, the government routinely fails to comply with timeliness its own regulations set to process applications. In this case it took the government five years to process the claim, which resulted in a denial of benefits. When the claimant appealed the decision, both the claimant and his advocate, Dr. Merritt, found the appeals process "hostile and intimidating."
Ironically, after six years of going through this agonizing process, LANL claimants who worked at least 250 days between the years 1943 and 1975 were granted Special Exposure Cohort (SEC) status. SEC is a concession that the government does not have enough reliable information to reconstruct the radiation exposure of employees at a facility during a specified period of time. It therefore grants compensation to all claimants who worked at the facility during that time period and contracted one of the twenty-two designated cancers. As a result, the claimant was notified in 2007 that he qualified for $150,000 plus medical benefits under Part B of EEOICPA. He is currently still fighting for disability and lost wages compensation under Part E.
This claimant's nightmare experience, and the thousands of other equally horrifying experiences of EEOICPA claimants throughout the United States, many of whom have received no compensation, obviously brings into question the reliability and cost effectiveness of the entire Dose Reconstruction Program. According to Dr. Silver's recent Senate testimony: "[Dose Reconstruction] Program statistics in a recent presentation by OCAS (the Office of Compensation, Analysis and Support) point to a program that is fundamentally broken. From 2001 till 2007 NIOSH [National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, which administers the Dose Reconstruction program for DOL] has received $280 million to perform dose reconstructions. NIOSH work has resulted in payments to claimants of $869,000,000. Administrative costs are therefore equal to 32.2% of payments (about one-third). Members of this committee are more familiar with the comparable administrative expense rate for other entitlement programs. For SSDI [Social Security Disability Insurance] it's 2.5%. The average cost per case was $14,534 per dose reconstruction."
Professor Silver went on to note that "DOL has rejected . . . about one quarter (24.5%) [of NIOSH's dose reconstructions] and sent them back to NIOSH to be reworked, mainly because NIOSH updated its methods without redoing the earlier cases. GAO [the General Accounting Office, which issued a report just after Professor Silver's testimony underscoring the numerous problems inherent in NIOSH's administration of the Dose Reconstruction program] will have more to say about these numbers. But clearly, despite an unlimited budget, the two agencies responsible for the program don't agree on what is valid in one-quarter of the cases. Little surprise then that many claimants have lost faith in how the program is administered."
Dr. Silver's critique of the Dose Reconstruction program is underwritten by DOL's recent admission that the cases of 730 Nevada Test workers who were denied benefits would be reopened because an audit "found flaws in the documents used to assess them." (This figure does not include 180 claims DOL returned to NIOSH for "dose estimate revisions.") According to a November 23, 2007 article by reporter Keith Rogers in the Las Vegas Review-Journal, "NIOSH officials acknowledged last week that an audit . . . resulted in a 'total rewrite' of at least two of six sections of the test site's technical basis document known as a site profile."
Site profiles, which contain "historical information about tests and activities involving radioactive materials or releases," are critical to the dose reconstruction process and claimants and their advocates have been outspoken in denouncing the inaccuracies and omissions contained in many of these reports. The article goes on to interview former test site worker John Funk (the director of the non-profit advocacy group Atomic Veterans and Victims of America and a cancer victim whose EEOICPA claim has been denied), who said that he was pleased that NIOSH was revising the site profile but was still concerned that it could take up to two years for NIOSH to implement the changes and then reprocess the affected claims. "And I also wonder," he said, "why NIOSH was recommending only last month to deny Nevada Test Site workers special exposure [cohort] status [SEC status] when they knew damn well these changes [in the site profile] would impact that decision."
This too is not an isolated instance. In November of this year it was revealed that an entire building at the Rocky Flats nuclear weapons facility in Colorado was omitted from a proposal for SEC status and more than 800 workers who should have been granted SEC status were not included. The entire Colorado Congressional Delegation has noted that the SEC covers "only a small portion of Rocky Flats workers who deserve to be covered" and urged the DOL to extend the SEC to all Rocky Flats workers who have contracted radiation-related cancers.
These shocking examples are typical of the claims process throughout the United States. Compensation for EEOICPA claims runs from just 10% to 30% depending on the facility. Facilities that have union organization and advocacy generally fair better than facilities that don't. LANL, where most claimants must fend for themselves, has one of the lowest compensation records in the country.
Now let's compare EEOICPA to the Radiation Exposure Compensation Act of 1990 (RECA), which provides "payments to individuals who contracted certain cancers and other serious diseases as a result of their exposure to radiation released during above-ground nuclear testing or as a result of their exposure to radiation during employment in underground uranium mines" during the period 1942 to 1971. This act grants fixed compensation benefits in the following amounts: "$50,000 to individuals residing or working 'downwind' of the Nevada Test Site; $75,000 for workers participating in above-ground nuclear weapons tests; and $100,000 for uranium miners, uranium millers, and ore transporters." RECA, which is administered by the Department of Justice, requires no dose reconstruction or other proof of contamination and generally take less than 18 months to process. As a result almost 71% of all claims have been approved.
So why was the government's approach to these two obviously related groups of claimants completely different? The reason seems obvious: RECA has a much smaller pool of potential claimants and benefits are more limited. As of November 1, 2007, over the course of fifteen years, there have been 27,234 total RECA claims resulting in approximately $1.25 billion in compensation benefits. By contrast, under EEOICPA there have been 14,921 claims at the Oak Ridge Gaseous Diffusion Plant alone, resulting in compensation of just 30% of those claims amounting to $540,332,439. Nationwide, even at an average compensation rate of 25%, EEOICPA will be paying billions of dollars in benefits. Bear in mind also that RECA claims are capped within the 1942-1971 time period, whereas EEOICPA is open-ended so that the pool of claimants is constantly expanding. Clearly the government is trying to limit its liability by making the claims process as cumbersome and difficult as possible. Moreover, as I noted in my October article, the White House Office of Management and Budget, the Department of Health and Human Services, The Department of Labor, and the Department of Energy covertly conspired to limit the expansion of the SEC program. And the DOL's Budget Request for benefits under Part B, which inexplicably dropped from $460 million in fiscal year 2006 to $277 million in fiscal year 2007, obviously reflects those efforts.
This issue is a national tragedy: thousands of people, who believed they were contributing to national security, are suffering and, in many cases, dying while the government drags them through a totally unrealistic and unworkable claims process. The real beneficiaries of the Dose Reconstruction program are the DOL, NIOSH, and their contractors, who pad their budgets with the program's outrageous administrative costs. Congress should do away with Dose Reconstruction all together and extend EEOICPA benefits to all workers who've been made ill by the government's failed policy of "nuclear diplomacy."
Copyright 1996-2006 La Jicarita Box 6 El Valle Route, Chamisal, New Mexico 87521.