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December 27, 2021

Earthjustice, Sierra Club of Hawai‘i Applaud Hearing Officer’s Proposed Decision and Order in Red Hill Bulk Fuel Storage Facility Contested Case Hearing

Environmental groups work to stop Red Hill fuel leak poisoning O‘ahu’s drinking water

Contacts

Wayne Tanaka, Sierra Club of Hawai‘i, (808) 490-8579, wayne.tanaka@sierraclub.org

David Henkin, Earthjustice, (808) 599-2436, dhenkin@earthjustice.org

Honolulu, HI

Earthjustice and the Sierra Club of Hawai‘i applaud the Hearing Officer’s proposed decision and order that would affirm the Hawai‘i Department of Health’s emergency order requiring the U.S. Navy to defuel the Red Hill Bulk Fuel Storage Facility.

“The Hearing Officer came to the only rational, logical conclusion that can possibly be made in this case,” said David Henkin, the Earthjustice attorney who represented the Sierra Club of Hawai‘i in marathon-length evidentiary proceedings last week. “The evidence is overwhelming that our residents and our way of life are and will remain in imminent, existential peril as long as the Red Hill Facility continues to store more than 100 million gallons of fuel right over O‘ahu’s primary source of drinking water.”

“This 80-year-old facility is actively corroding, its fuel tanks’ concrete foundations may be losing integrity, it has leaked petroleum throughout its lifetime including into our groundwater aquifer, and it has now poisoned hundreds if not thousands of people,” added Wayne Tanaka, Sierra Club of Hawai‘i’s chapter director. “The Navy could not stop nearly 200,000 gallons, if not more, of petroleum from leaking over the past seven decades; could not even prevent its own water system from becoming contaminated; and cannot prevent inevitable future leaks, including potentially catastrophic ones.”

In his proposed decision and order, Hearing Officer David Day highlighted live and recorded testimonies put forward by Earthjustice and the Sierra Club. Witnesses who had fallen victim to petroleum poisoning after their water system was contaminated by fuel from the Red Hill Facility described serious physical illness, sickened pets, mental and emotional distress and anguish, and how “the lack of water impacted and continues to have impacts upon virtually every aspect of their lives.”

Day found such evidence “highly credible and perhaps the most important to the overall factual balancing” in determining that the most recent leak was “a humanitarian and environmental emergency and disaster.” Officer Day also minced no words when describing the potential for future harm: “[T]he Red Hill Facility, as currently situated, is a metaphorical ticking timebomb located 100 feet above the most important aquifer on Hawai‘i’s most populous island.”

Parties to the contested case hearing now have until Wednesday at 5 p.m. to file their “exceptions,” or disagreements, with the Hearing Officer’s proposed decision and order, and to request an opportunity for final arguments before Deputy Director of Health Marion Tsuji, who will be the ultimate decisionmaker in the contested case hearing. “The November 20 spill that poisoned the drinking water supply for over 92,000 servicemen and women and their families is a warning of even more catastrophic harm if we don’t act now to protect our island’s water supply,”

Henkin observed. “It is long past time for the Navy to accept reality, acknowledge that they cannot safely operate the Red Hill Facility, and begin the process of complying with the emergency order to take this fuel away from our aquifer, before the current contamination crisis becomes unimaginably worse.”

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Earthjustice is the premier nonprofit environmental law organization. We wield the power of law and the strength of partnership to protect people’s health, to preserve magnificent places and wildlife, to advance clean energy, and to combat climate change. We are here because the earth needs a good lawyer.