west of Las Vegas, Nevada—encouraged members of Congress to advance compensation legislation. The actions and testimony of labor unions, Native American uranium miners, interest groups, and downwinders constitute the background of the RECA legislation. Among these groups are the Oil Chemical and Atomic Workers International, the Office of Navajo Uranium Miners, the Eastern Navajo Agency Uranium Workers, the Northern Arizona Navajo Downwinders, and the Utah Navajo Downwinders. Some organizations, such as Dine Citizens Against Ruining Our Environment (Dine Care) as late as 1998 claimed that “we have been involved in bringing relief to victims of radiation exposure on the Navajo Nation, and in the fight to prevent future mining. Our biggest victory so far has been the reform of the Radiation Exposure Compensation Act” (http://dinecare.indigenousnative.org/about_us.html, accessed December 23, 2004).
Those organizations “approached radiation exposure as a social justice issue, righting government wrongs to the constituent group” (Walchuk, 2002). They have hired Washington, DC, lobbyists to support their efforts in Congress. Active citizen organizations continue to inform their constituents about RECA and its amendments. Many of the groups, such as the Western States RECA Reform Coalition and the Mohave Downwinders, continue to seek further legislative remedies.
While miners and downwinders were organizing around compensation legislation in the late 1970s, lawsuits on behalf of workers were filed against mining companies and the federal government. They met with little success because, in the case of mining companies, worker’s compensation precluded suits against employers for on-the-job injury or illness. Most of the worker’s compensation claims were denied or never filed. With few exceptions, mining companies have not been held liable (Brugge and Goble, 2002).
A suit was brought against the Atomic Energy Commission (AEC) by John Begay to seek redress for alleged harm from uranium mining activities in Begay v. United States. Begay’s petitioners argued that the government’s special trust responsibilities toward Native Americans should not allow the normal exceptions to apply to negligence toward Navajo uranium miners. Nevertheless, the US District Court in Arizona ruled that there was no subject-matter jurisdiction to proceed because the federal government was shielded from prosecution and any later tort liability by the discretionary-function exception to the Federal Tort Claims Act (FTCA, 28 U.S.C. § 2674 ; 28 USC § 2680). The court also ruled that national-security interests overrode any claim to restitution. “The court concludes that all the actions of various governmental agencies complained of by plaintiffs were the result of conscious policy decisions made at high government levels based on considerations of political and national security feasibility factors. All such decisions, including the PHS epidemiological study, were carried out as directed. Therefore this court lacks … subject matter jurisdiction to proceed in these cases. Because the discretionary function exception is disposi-