April 07, 2022

Hirono Questions Defense Secretary Austin on DOD Plans Following the Announced Closure of Red Hill & Budget Priorities for Hawaii

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:

  • On March 29, Senator Hirono applauded the inclusion of $1 billion in funding to close Red Hill in President Biden’s FY2023 budget.
  • On March 29, Senator Hirono questioned U.S. Commanders about the Department of Defense’s bulk fuel storage strategy in the Pacific in light of the announced closure of Red Hill.
  • On March 10, Senator Hirono questioned U.S. commanders about the Department of Defense’s future fuel storage needs in the pacific following the decision to close Red Hill.
  • On March 9, Senator Hirono released a statement applauding the $686 million in funding for the Red Hill water contamination crisis that was included in the fiscal year 2022 omnibus spending bill.
  • On March 7, Senator Hirono expressed her strong support regarding the Department of Defense’s decision to defuel and permanently shut down the Red Hill Bulk Fuel Storage Facility.
  • On March 3, Senator Hirono sent a letter to the Chairs and Ranking Members of the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works (EPW) Committee and Appropriations Subcommittee on Interior and Environment. In her letter, she urged them to support her efforts in ensuring the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has the resources it needs to continue addressing the water contamination caused by the fuel leak.
  • On February 22, Senator Hirono toured the Red Hill facility and met business owners at the NEX Food Court who have been impacted by the Navy’s contaminated water system.
  • On February 17, Senator Hirono applauded Senate passage of the continuing resolution-legislation to keep the government funded—which included $350 million to address the Red Hill crisis. Senator Hirono will continue to fight for additional funding to defuel safely and for the DoD to develop and implement a long-term plan to meet the strategic fueling needs of the Indo Pacific region in the upcoming fiscal year 2023 National Defense Authorization Act.
  • On February 11, Senator Hirono released a statement where she reiterated that the State of Hawaii has the authority to shut down Red Hill through its permitting process—and that she will fully support the State’s decision.
  • As the Department of Defense considers options for the long-term strategic fuel reserve needs of the Indo Pacific region, Senator Hirono sent a letter to the Secretary of Defense urging the Department to focus on options that do not rely on Red Hill, given the likelihood that the facility will be shutdown. Senator Hirono requested the briefing and the completed analysis by March 30 to ensure the NDAA includes necessary provisions to protect Hawaii’s water and our national security.
  • During a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing, Senator Hirono highlighted the Red Hill water contamination crisis as she questioned Robert Storch, nominee to be Inspector General of the DoD, and Christopher Lowman, nominee to be Assistant Secretary of Defense for Sustainment. She inquired about the continuation of the Inspector General (IG) investigation into operations at Red Hill and potential strategies to address any long-term impacts, should the State elect to shut down the Red Hill facility. A link to download video of the exchange is available here.
  • In December, the DoD IG announced their intent to open an investigation into the Navy’s ability to safely operate Red Hill at the request of Senator Hirono and the Hawaii Congressional delegation.  Senator Hirono asked Mr. Storch, if confirmed, whether he would commit to continuing the current investigation into Red Hill. The Senator emphasized the importance of completing the investigation, regardless of whether the facility is allowed to continue its operations.

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