March 04, 2022

Hirono Seeks to Ensure EPA Has the Necessary Resources to Address Red Hill Crisis

WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senator Mazie K. Hirono (D-HI) urged Senators Carper (D-DE) and Capito (R-WV), Chair and Ranking Member of the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works (EPW), and Senators Merkley (D-OR) and Murkowski (R-AK), Chair and Ranking Member of the Appropriations Subcommittee on Interior and Environment, to support her efforts to ensure the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has the resources it needs to address the Red Hill water contamination crisis and ensure the long-term health and safety of the residents of Hawaii.

While Congress included funding in the short-term FY 2022 Continuing Resolution to allow the Department of Defense to begin complying with defueling the tanks, in a letter sent yesterday, Senator Hirono emphasized that significantly more funding will be required. Specifically, Senator Hirono highlighted that the EPA will need funding to continue drinking water sampling and data analysis until residents are able to return safely to their homes and businesses and to ensure that the Red Hill tanks are defueled in a way that does not threaten public health and the environment.

Senator Hirono wrote, “The State of Hawaii has the power to determine the future of Red Hill, which I support. It will be essential that EPA has the resources necessary to respond to this ongoing crisis. Therefore, I ask your assistance to work with me to ensure that Congress provides the requisite authorities and funds to allow EPA to ensure that Hawaii’s drinking water is safe.”

Last week, Senator Hirono met with EPA Administrator Michael Regan and EPA Regional Administrator Martha Guzman after touring the Red Hill facility. She asked about EPA’s planned tank inspections, which were scheduled to occur this week, and about EPA’s ongoing efforts to address this crisis.

  • 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.

Full text of the letter is available here and below.

March 3, 2022

The Honorable Tom Carper
Chairman
U.S. Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works
410 Dirksen Senate Office Building
Washington, D.C. 20510   
The Honorable Shelley Moore Capito
Ranking Member
U.S. Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works
456 Dirksen Senate Office Building
Washington, D.C. 20510
The Honorable Jeff Merkley
Chairman
U.S. Senate Committee on Appropriations Subcommittee on Interior, Environment and Related Agencies
142 Dirksen Senate Office Building
Washington, D.C. 20510
The Honorable Lisa Murkowski
Ranking Member
U.S. Senate Committee on Appropriations Subcommittee on Interior, Environment and Related Agencies
125 Dirksen Senate Office Building
Washington, D.C. 20510

 

Dear Chairs Carper and Merkley and Ranking Members Capito and Murkowski:

I write to make you aware of an ongoing drinking water contamination crisis in Hawaii and request that you exercise your authorities as chairs and ranking members of your respective authorizing and appropriating committees to ensure the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has the resources necessary to respond to this crisis.

The U.S. Navy operates the Red Hill Bulk Fuel Storage Facility (“Red Hill”) on Oahu. This World War II-era facility can store up to 250 million gallons of fuel for the military and sits 100 feet above an aquifer that supplies the majority of Oahu residents’ drinking water. In 2014, Red Hill leaked 27,000 gallons of fuel, resulting in the Navy and Defense Logistics Agency, EPA, and Hawaii Department of Health (HDOH) entering into an enforceable administrative order of consent (AOC). The AOC’s purpose was to ensure that the Navy operates Red Hill in a way that minimizes risk to public health and the environment.

In November 2021, Red Hill leaked 14,000 gallons of fuel, contaminating the Navy’s drinking water system for families both on base and in surrounding communities serviced by the Navy’s drinking water. Approximately 100,000 residents have been impacted, almost 4,000 military families have been displaced, numerous businesses have had to temporarily close, and all of the schools and child development centers using the Navy water system have had to adjust operations to supply students with bottled water.

On December 6, 2021, HDOH issued an emergency order to the Navy to suspend operations at Red Hill, take measures to treat contaminated drinking water at the Red Hill shaft, and safely remove fuel from the 20 underground storage tanks at Red Hill. The emergency order was contested by the Navy in late December. The emergency order was affirmed by HDOH in its final decision and order on January 3, 2022.

In response to this crisis, Congress included in H.R.6617, the short-term Fiscal Year 2022 Continuing Resolution, $250 million to the Army, Navy, Marine Corps, and Air Force to cover expenses related to drinking water contamination and $100 million for the Department of Defense to begin complying with the State of Hawaii’s emergency order related to the improvement of infrastructure and removal of fuel from Red Hill. 

I appreciate the resources EPA has provided to date to respond to this crisis, including assisting with water sampling collection and providing additional laboratory capacity, data analysis, and flushing expertise as a party to the Interagency Drinking Water System Team. I also appreciate the attention that EPA is providing to this matter, exhibited by the recent announcement by EPA of inspections at Red Hill, as well as recent visits made by the EPA Administrator and Deputy Administrator, as well as the Region 9 Administrator and Deputy Administrator. However, additional resources will be necessary to continue responding to the Red Hill crisis. This includes continued engagement on drinking water sampling and data analysis until HDOH advises all impacted families that it is safe to return to their homes, and analysis to ensure that in complying with HDOH’s emergency order, the Red Hill tanks are defueled in a way that does not threaten public health and the environment.

The State of Hawaii has the power to determine the future of Red Hill, which I support. It will be essential that EPA has the resources necessary to respond to this ongoing crisis. Therefore, I ask your assistance to work with me to ensure that Congress provides the requisite authorities and funds to allow EPA to ensure that Hawaii’s drinking water is safe.

Thank you for your consideration of this request.

Sincerely,

MAZIE K. HIRONO

United States Senator

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