WASHINGTON, D.C. – At a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing, Senator Mazie K. Hirono (D-HI) questioned Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin about next steps for fuel storage and environmental remediation following his decision to defuel and permanently close the Red Hill Bulk Fuel Storage Facility on Oahu, which Senator Hirono strongly supports. The hearing was Secretary Austin’s first appearance before the Committee since the announced closure of Red Hill last month.
“The closure of Red Hill is going to be a multi-year and multi-phased endeavor,” Senator Hirono said to Secretary Austin. “It is imperative that a great deal of attention be paid to the defueling process, the closure of the facility, and the clean-up of the site. The entire effort will require significant planning and resources for years to come. I encourage you to work closely with the Hawaii Department of Health and the EPA. The funding containing in the President’s budget demonstrates the Department of Defense’ commitment to the long-term closure and clean-up of the Red Hill Bulk Fuel facility. It also demonstrates to the people of Hawaii that the environmental remediation will not fall to the wayside, as we have seen all too frequently.”
In addition to Red Hill, Senator Hirono also asked Secretary Austin about the Defense Department’s capability to defend Hawaii from missile threats and expressed her concern about the Department procuring far fewer San Antonio-class amphibious ships than the Marine Corps has identified a need for.
A link to download video of their exchange is available here and a transcript is below.
Senator Hirono: Thank you, Mr. Chairman. Secretary Austin, I want to commend you for reaching the decision that you did to defuel and permanently close the Red Hill Storage Facility on Oahu. Ensuring the health and safety of our citizens has been my number one priority, and this decision not only protects the island’s drinking water, but will ultimately benefit operations in INDOPACOM as we look to expand our ability to operate in a distributed manner across the AOR. I also would like to particularly thank Deputy Secretary of Defense Kathleen Hicks for her diligent work on this issue and her communicating with me personally.
The closure of Red Hill is going to be a multi-year and multi-phased endeavor. There is a defueling process, the closure of the facility, and the clean-up of the site. The entire effort will require significant planning and resources for years to come. I ask you to work closely with the Hawaii Department of Health and the EPA as we go forward. The funding containing in the President’s budget shows DoD’s commitment to the long-term closure and clean-up of Red Hill. It also demonstrates, very importantly, to the people of Hawaii that the environmental remediation will not fall to the wayside. Secretary Austin, would you like to add any comment to this?
Secretary Austin: Just a couple, Senator. First of all, I want to thank you personally for your leadership and that of your colleagues in doing the work that you did to help us work our way through this and we remain grateful for that. I would also highlight that the safety and security, and the health of our troops, our families, the people in the community—it’s absolutely important to the Department of Defense. You are correct, we have allocated funds that will help us begin to address the critical components here going forward—the defueling process, remediation will be, no doubt, carry a significant expense. I certainly hope that Congress will continue to support us as you have done to this point. Thank you.
Senator Hirono: Thank you for your continued leadership. Secretary, it is my understanding that this year the National Defense Strategy and the Missile Defense Review were developed simultaneously for the first time to ensure alignment of decision making across these documents. In the NDS, one of your four stated priorities is “defending the homeland,” which would make sense to ensure missile defense is in line with that priority. Though the budget justification books are not out yet, one concern I have is for the defense of Hawaii from missile threats.
To date the Department has spent significant resources on HDR-Hawaii, which I have supported because we were told many times this was required by the operational commanders. While we wait for greater details on the Department’s decision related to the future of HDR-Hawaii, I would like to understand the Department’s position on defense of Hawaii and how, if HDR-Hawaii is not funded, how the Department plans to upgrade radar discrimination capability for the defense of Hawaii. The question is Secretary Austin, what is your plan for the future defense of Hawaii from missile threats?
Secretary Austin: In terms of defense of Hawaii right now we are absolutely committed to defending this country. Hawaii is a key part that defense and is certainly defended as we speak. Going forward Senator, you’ll note that we are investing $24.7 billion in missile defense and defeat and so we are developing the next generation interceptor. Our goal is to stay two-steps ahead of our adversaries emerging technologies and Hawaii will absolutely be a key part of that.
Senator Hirono: So just to be clear then, if we are not going to be continuing to fund HDR-Hawaii that you are developing, as you mentioned, the next gen interceptors to make sure that Hawaii is defended against missile threats.
Secretary Austin: Absolutely.
Senator Hirono: Thank you. I just want to add my voice of concern regarding Senator Wicker’s line of questioning relating to amphibious ships and the fact that there will be only 3 of the 13 planned purchases of the San Antonio-class ships. I just want to add my concern that General Berger had asked for 31 ships and we are falling short of that. I hope that, you have said that you are continuing to work with General Berger so I hope that we can come to a positive resolution of the need that he has for these ships. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
Senator Hirono steps on Red Hill: