December 08, 2021

Senator Hirono Questions Navy Admiral on Red Hill Water Contamination at Senate Armed Services Committee Hearing

~Senator Hirono questions Admiral Christopher Grady about the Navy’s commitment to providing clean drinking water to Oahu residents during his confirmation hearing to serve as Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff~

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, at a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing, Senator Mazie K. Hirono (D-Hawaii) discussed the series of recent preventable accidents that have led to the contamination of the Navy’s drinking water system and put the community at risk. The hearing was scheduled to consider the nomination of Admiral Christopher Grady, United States Navy, for reappointment to the grade of Admiral and to serve as the Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff (VCJCS). During the hearing, Senator Hirono questioned Admiral Grady on his commitment to prioritizing Red Hill, both in solving the short term contamination issue and developing a credible long-term plan for the country’s strategic war reserve needs. Senator Hirono also pressed Admiral Grady on the current community distrust and what the Navy can do to restore that confidence. A transcript of Senator Hirono’s remarks as well as a link to download the exchange are below.

“The Department of Defense needs to provide answers to the citizens of Hawaii and the nation as a whole about how it can safely protect the aquifer while still storing the required fuel reserve for national security, even if that means moving the fuel elsewhere,” Senator Hirono added.

“It is paramount that the Navy understands that Oahu needs safe drinking water—that is the top priority. And I will continue to work with the Congressional delegation and the governor to do whatever is necessary to make that happen. Admiral, once confirmed, I’d like a commitment from you that Red Hill will be a top priority, both solving the short term contamination issue and developing a credible long-term plan for the strategic war reserve needs. I would also like your commitment to prioritize restoring the community’s confidence in the military. You can imagine the community’s confidence has been badly shaken by how the military has handled this contamination crisis INDOPACOM is our country’s priority theater, and DOD’s budgeting and infrastructure decisions need to more strongly reflect that reality,” said Senator Hirono.

A link to download broadcast quality video of the exchange is available here and a transcript of Senator Hirono’s opening remarks is available below.

“Admiral Grady, normally I start each nomination hearing with a series of questions related to a nominee’s fitness for service, however, based on the severity of the ongoing water contamination crisis at Pearl Harbor, I am going to submit those questions for the record. I am not sure how familiar you or my colleagues are with the Red Hill Fuel Storage Facility, but it is a huge complex that I liken to the Hoover Dam. Red Hill has 20 massive underground fuel storage tanks built into the side of a mountain that holds 250 million gallons of fuel to support military operations across the Indo-Pacific. These tanks serve as a strategic war reserve in the event of crisis. 

“Red Hill sits 100 feet directly above Oahu’s aquifer which is the source of drinking water for all of Honolulu and the surrounding area—threatening the safety of our clean drinking water. While there have been on-going issues with leaks at Red Hill since 2014, a series of recent preventable accidents have led to the contamination of the Navy’s water system and put the community at risk.

“At this moment, around 100,000 military service members, their families, contractors, and other residents are impacted. Over 2,800 families have been displaced to temporary housing only weeks before the holidays and thousands of others are being forced to use bottled water.

“This is not just a short-term matter to resolve the drinking water problem, which the Navy must do expeditiously, but also a long-term question about the Department’s plans for strategic fuel storage. On Monday, I joined Governor Ige and the Hawaii delegation in calling for the Navy to immediately suspend operations at Red Hill while they confront and remedy this crisis.

“Governor Ige then directed the Navy to cease operations at Red Hill and defuel all the tanks.  The Department of Defense needs to provide answers to the citizens of Hawaii and the nation as a whole about how it can safely protect the aquifer while still storing the required fuel reserve for national security, even if that means ultimately moving the fuel elsewhere.

“In the past week, I have spoken to the Secretary of the Navy, the Chief of Naval Operations, and the Commander of INDOPACOM multiple times about how to resolve this crisis.

“It is paramount that the Navy understands that Oahu needs safe drinking water—that is the top priority—and I will continue to work with the Congressional delegation and the Governor to do whatever is necessary to make that happen.

“Admiral, once confirmed, I’d like a commitment from you that Red Hill will be a top priority, both solving the short term contamination issue and developing a credible long term plan for the strategic war reserve needs. I would also like your commitment to prioritize restoring the community’s confidence in the military. You can imagine that the community’s confidence has been badly shaken by how the military has handled this contamination crisis.

“INDOPACOM is our country’s priority theater, and DOD’s budgeting and infrastructure decisions need to more strongly reflect that reality.”

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