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National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2013

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC


Mr. UDALL of New Mexico. Mr. President, I rise today to talk about two of my amendments to the Defense authorization bill. I will maybe at a later point speak on some of the other amendments I had filed, but I am not going to offer the amendments at this time.

I first rise to speak on the Udall-Corker amendment No. 3049. Last year I introduced S. 1798, the Open Burn Pits Registry Act with Senator Corker. We have met with veterans and Active-duty members of the military and they have told us how important it is that we act now on this issue. The Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee agrees and has passed the legislation after holding hearings.

This week, Senator Corker and I submitted amendment No. 3049 to the Defense authorization bill because our veterans and Active-duty members suffering from exposure to burn pits should not have to wait any longer.

I began this work because of servicemembers such as MSgt Jesse Baca, a member of the New Mexico Air National Guard, and his wife Maria. Master Sergeant Baca was stationed in Balad, Iraq, and exposed to burn pits. Because of the burn pits he has battled cancer, chronic bronchialitis, chemical-induced asthma, brain lesions, TBI, PTSD, and numerous other ailments. He knows firsthand the suffering caused by burn pits and the need for answers.

In both Afghanistan and Iraq, open air burn pits were widely used at forward operating bases. Disposing of trash and other debris was a major challenge. Commanders had to find a way to dispose of the waste while concentrating on the important mission at hand. The solution that was chosen, however, had serious risks. Pits of waste were set on fire, sometimes using jet fuel for ignition.

For example, the air samples at Joint Base Balad turned up some nasty stuff: particulate matter, chemicals that form from the incomplete burning of coal, oil, and gas, garbage, or other organic substances, also volatile organic compounds such as acetone and benzene--benzene is known to cause leukemia--and dioxins associated with Agent Orange.

A scientific study by the American Lung Association found the following:

Emissions from burning waste contain fine particulate matter, sulfur dioxides, carbon monoxide, volatile organic compounds and various irritant gases such as nitrogen oxides that can scar the lungs.

All of this was in the air and our veterans have begun to raise the alarm.

We are forever in debt for their service so we must ask the question: How did these burn pits impact the health of our returning heroes? This amendment is a step toward finding the answers we owe them.

This amendment is supported by numerous groups, including Burn Pits 360, Veterans of Foreign Wars, the Association of the U.S. Navy, Retired Enlisted Association, Uniformed Services Disabled Retirees, and the National Military Family Association.

I urge the Senate to adopt this amendment so that Master Sergeant Baca and his fellow servicemembers and veterans can begin to heal.

Now I want to speak about a second amendment. This is an amendment that deals with the issue of buying American solar. This amendment is Udall No. 3150, sponsored by Senators Schumer, Bingaman, and Wyden.

Solar power increases energy security for American military installations, but we should be using Buy American- compliant solar panels. The Department of Defense is a leader on utilizing solar power, not for environmental reasons but for energy security reasons. When we use taxpayer funds to support military solar power, we need a level playing field for U.S. solar manufacturers in the contracting process. Today we have U.S. military bases with Chinese solar that violates the trade laws, but there is no U.S. solar on Chinese military bases.

The 2011 Defense authorization bill took an important step to clarify DOD's Buy American Act requirements, making sure they apply to solar. My amendment is needed to close existing loopholes in the 2011 Buy American solar requirements. It would ensure Buy American standards apply to solar on DOD property that is used to meet DOD energy goals.

This amendment is nearly identical to the one passed on voice vote last year but dropped in conference with the House. The change from last year's amendment is a 1-year term so we can test this provision. CBO estimated the cost of this amendment as insignificant, so we know this amendment does not raise costs. The difference in price is very small. Chinese solar now has significant tariffs. Nations that are in the WTO are not discriminated against. Buy American does not bar nations that allow reciprocal access to U.S. firms. Existing exemptions, such as availability and cost, still apply. We do not expect this to harm DOD's procurement in any way.

I would once again urge the Senate, when we have the opportunity, to adopt this amendment.

With that, Mr. President, I yield the floor, and I suggest the absence of a quorum.


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