Especially as a member of our U.S. House Appropriations Committee, responsible for all federal discretionary funding, I continue to fight for the resources necessary to clean up, defuel and close the Red Hill Bulk Fuel Storage Facility and relocate its fuel elsewhere. I also continue working with the rest of our Hawai‘i Congressional delegation, military leaders, federal, state and county officials and community organizations to address the impacts of the drinking water crisis on Hawai‘i residents and support efforts to ensure long-term health and safety monitoring.
On March 7, 2022, the Secretary of Defense announced that the military, which had already ceased fuel operations at Red Hill, will permanently defuel and close the facility. That decision came after I cosponsored legislation in the last Congress (2021-2023) to close Red Hill. The Secretary of Defense’s decision effectively achieves the goals of our legislation and my Fiscal Year 2021 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) amendment directing the military to conduct an assessment to plan for possible alternatives to Red Hill, including new fuel storage sites outside of Hawai‘i. In addition, I worked with my colleagues in the Hawai‘i Congressional delegation and as a member of the House Appropriation Committee to secure over $2.1 billion in the Fiscal Year 2022 and 2023 federal funding bills to ensure Red Hill’s continued remediation and closure and to address the health concerns related to the water contamination crisis.
On June 30, 2022, the Department of Defense (DoD) provided to the Hawai‘i Department of Health (DOH) its five-phase plan to defuel Red Hill. On September 28, 2022, the DoD provided to DOH a defueling plan supplement, and on October 7, 2022, the DOH approved the DoD’s “unpacking plan” to remove existing fuel from the three main pipelines at Red Hill. The pipelines were drained in late October and early November 2022. In May 2023, the DoD submitted a revised defueling plan that aims to allow it to defuel the tanks this fall. You can follow the status of the defueling effort, review recent press releases and obtain points of contacts for inquiries here: https://www.pacom.mil/JTF-Red-Hill/Joint-Task-Force-Red-Hill/
The DoD will work closely with the State of Hawai‘i and other key stakeholders to ensure Red Hill’s closure is done in a safe, methodical and timely way. I have regularly engaged and will continue to engage with senior military and civilian leaders to ensure this happens. Rest assured that I will conduct the necessary oversight to ensure all of this is achieved and the community is engaged and consulted with throughout the process.
Federal Appropriations and Authorizations
In the Fiscal Year 2023 NDAA, which I was actively involved in drafting, Congress directed the military to move forward with defueling the facility. The bill also:
1. Requires the military to issue a publicly available report every quarter on the status of the effort to close Red Hill.
2. Directs the DoD to determine the need, number and optimal locations of additional sentinel or monitoring wells to detect and track the movement of fuel that has leaked into the ground, in coordination with the United States Geological Survey.
3. Requires the DoD to conduct a hydrology study around Red Hill and assess how best to address the water needs on O‘ahu and mitigate water shortages, to include water treatment plants or the placement of a new drinking water shaft.
4. Directs the DoD to track the long-term health implications of fuel leaks from Red Hill for members of the armed forces and their dependents in conjunction with the Center for Disease Control and Prevention and the Hawai‘i Department of Health.
Of particular concern to me is the potential health risk to those who drank or were otherwise exposed to the polluted water. In addition to the health monitoring provision in the NDAA, I signed a letter, along with the rest of the Hawai‘i Congressional delegation, to the Secretary of Defense outlining our concerns about the possible long-term health impacts of the Red Hill crisis. If, and as the ongoing studies and/or investigations indicate that even more federal funding is required to address health concerns, I will pursue such funding in Congress.
Aqueous Film Forming Foam (AFFF)
The November 2022 AFFF spill at Red Hill only highlights the need to close the facility as quickly and safely as possible. On May 5, 2023, Joint Task Force Red Hill released the results of the investigation into the AFFF leak at Red Hill. The investigation found that a maintenance contractor improperly installed an air vacuum valve on the AFFF system in April 2022. That same contractor failed to disable the AFFF concentrate pumps from automatically starting before conducting a fire suppression system test on November 29, 2022. These two occurrences, along with improper oversight of the contractor by the Navy, led to the discharge of approximately 1,300 gallons of AFFF concentrate. The results of the investigation have been forwarded to the Department of the Navy, which will review the results and determine liability and accountability for the incident. I will continue to monitor the military’s decisions regarding accountability and liability for the AFFF leak as part of my oversight of Red Hill.
Ongoing Audits and Investigations
We must ensure that all investigations and studies related to Red Hill are expedited, thorough, objective and transparent once concluded, and that specific actions are taken and funded. In addition to various formal written requests to the military on a wide range of issues related to Red Hill, the Hawai‘i Congressional delegation has requested independent investigations by the Government Accountability Office and the DoD Inspector General into the more serious allegations (which have started). The Hawai‘i Congressional delegation has sent multiple letters and met and will continue to meet with senior military leaders, to include the Secretaries of Defense and the Navy, to emphasize our concerns with Red Hill, the Navy’s fuel operations in Hawai‘i and risks to our drinking water. We made it clear that the health and safety of the public and our environment is paramount.
In addition to various formal written requests to the military on a wide range of issues related to Red Hill, the Hawai‘i Congressional delegation has requested an independent investigation by the DoD Inspector General into the more serious allegations (which the Inspector General has undertaken).
The Hawai‘i Congressional delegation has sent multiple letters and met and will continue to meet with senior military leaders, to include the Secretaries of Defense and the Navy, to emphasize our concerns with Red Hill, the Navy’s fuel operations in Hawai‘i and risks to our drinking water. We made it clear that the health and safety of the public and our environment is paramount.
Resources from the Navy and Army If you reside in housing served by the Navy’s Pearl Harbor water system and are concerned that your water has been contaminated or your health has been affected as a result of the Red Hill leaks, please call the Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam Information Line at 808-448-2570. For the latest water updates from the Navy, please visit https://www.cpf.navy.mil/JBPHH-Water-Updates/. For information about available resources and services offered by the Army, please visit https://home.army.mil/hawaii/index.php/water.