August 03, 2018

Udall: Major Defense Bill Strengthens NM, Nation

Udall secures provisions to benefit service members & veterans exposed to open-air burn pits, strengthen safety at national labs

Successfully fights off anti-environment provisions

WASHINGTON – U.S. Senator Tom Udall joined the full Senate in voting to pass the final National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), a major bill that benefits New Mexico’s service members and military families, veterans, military bases, and defense programs throughout the state. The NDAA now goes to the president’s desk to be signed into law.

“Thanks to our deep tradition of service and our premier military bases and federal installations, New Mexico plays an absolutely essential role in the national defense. This year’s legislation—named for Senator John McCain—honors and supports the critical work being done by men and women across New Mexico to keep our nation safe and grow the state’s economy,” Udall said. “In particular, I’m proud to have helped secure provisions that will support veterans exposed to open air burn pits, and to bolster safety at our national labs. I’ll keep working in the Appropriations Committee – where these programs are ultimately funded – to provide the strong resources our state needs to keep making our important contributions to national security.”

Udall also fought to keep the NDAA free of unrelated, anti-environment provisions that would have weakened protections for endangered species and public lands. “The national defense policy bill, which authorizes pay and provisions for our troops, is no place to jam in unrelated measures that weaken protections for the environment and wildlife,” Udall said. “That’s why I fought to keep the NDAA clean of these toxic riders. In the future, we must continue to send the clear message that extreme, partisan efforts to gut endangered species safeguards and other bedrock environmental protections will not pass muster in Congress. Our environmental laws were passed on a bipartisan, consensus basis, and any successful efforts to update them will need to take a similar approach.”

Specific provisions of the NDAA that Udall has championed include:

- Pay Raise for Troops: The NDAA authorizes a 2.6 percent pay raise for members of the Armed Forces.

- Fighting for Justice for Victims of Burn Pit Exposure: In 2013, Udall and Senator Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) passed the landmark Open Burn Pit Registry Act, which established the Airborne Hazards and Burn Pit Registry – a key step toward providing medical care and research for veterans exposed to toxic chemicals from open-air burn pits in Iraq and Afghanistan. Udall included an amendment to the NDAA to help strengthen the burn pit registry and gain a better understanding of the long-term health effects of exposure to burn pits and other airborne hazards during deployment. Udall’s amendment will implement recommendations from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine to improve the registry and expand registration among service members and veterans. In addition, Udall’s amendment requires the Department of Defense (DOD) to report on any ongoing uses of open-air burn pits. Text of the amendment is available HERE.

“Many men and women in uniform were exposed to toxic fumes and chemicals from burn pits while serving our country overseas," Udall said. “And many of these same service members and veterans are battling illnesses that they can trace back to that exposure. My amendment will strengthen the burn pits registry that we established under the original Burn Pit Registry Act and take another important step toward understanding the long-term effects of burn pit exposure – and will ultimately provide the necessary treatment and care to those who have been exposed.”

- Improving Safety at NM’s National Labs: The bill authorizes $31.2 million to fund the Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board (DNFSB) to ensure that operations at New Mexico’s Sandia and Los Alamos national labs are kept safe for workers and the community. The DNFSB is an independent body of expert board members and staff created to conduct safety reviews at Department of Energy nuclear facilities and offer public recommendations to the president and secretary of Energy periodically on important projects and procedures needed to ensure workers and the public are protected from dangerous nuclear materials. Udall and Heinrich successfully included a provision in last year’s NDAA to oppose efforts by the previous Chairman of the Board to terminate the board during the first year of the Trump Administration.

“The DNFSB is integral to providing independent oversight to keep workers safe at New Mexico’s two nuclear security labs and the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant and to protect surrounding communities. I am relieved that we defeated the misguided attempt by the Trump administration to terminate the board, and we have to stay vigilant against incremental efforts to weaken or create new obstacles for the DNFSB’s critical role as an independent watchdog for public health and safety and making safety recommendations,” Udall said.

- Construction Projects at NM Bases and Facilities: The bill authorizes $10.3 billion for military construction projects nationwide, an increase of $228 million above fiscal year 2018, and authorizes more than $125 million for critical projects in New Mexico. Udall and Heinrich championed this funding for projects at Holloman Air Force Base, White Sands Missile Range, and Kirtland Air Force Base.

- Promoting New Mexico’s Spaceport America as a potential site for DOD launches and national security space priorities.

- Ensuring critical science and engineering work continues at NM’s National Labs: The stockpile stewardship program ensures that the labs do not have to engage in new nuclear testing. The NDAA protects the labs’ role in the life extension programs and plutonium science missions, as well as the important nonproliferation work of the U.S. government.

- No new anti-environment provisions: Udall successfully fought to keep the NDAA free of unrelated, partisan measures that would have weakened environmental, land and wildlife protections.