IMPORTANT: It's a Serious Matter of Life

Group asks court to fine U.S. Navy daily for Red Hill fuel leaks

A citizen’s group wants a federal judge to fine the United States Department of the Navy $59,973 for violating the Federal Water Pollution Control Act.

The Wai Ola Alliance alleges in a lawsuit filed in Hawaii’s U.S. District Court that the Navy’s last “gauging event” to evaluate groundwater contamination was conducted by the Navy in 2017. The group wants the fines retroactive to 2017.

The Hawaii Department of Health ordered the Navy to drain the tanks after a fuel leak last November affected thousands of residents.

The Department of Defense dropped its legal challenge to the order in April.

The problem goes further back than 2021, the Wai Ola Alliance said in the lawsuit.

“Information available to Wai Ola Alliance indicates that the Navy has been underreporting and/or misreporting the number of discharges from Red Hill. Moreover, the Navy lacks an adequate monitoring program to detect, report, and address petroleum discharges and their impact,” the group said in its lawsuit. “Thus, information available to Wai Ola Alliance indicates that discharges in addition to those identified above will be discovered through this enforcement action.”

The information could have prevented what Secretary of the Navy Carlos Del Toro called a “horrible tragedy,” the group said.

“While tragic is a proper description, Del Toro’s comments fail to acknowledge that Red Hill has released fuel into the environment throughout its history, did so throughout 2020 and 2021, and that the current catastrophe could have been—and should have been—avoided,” the group said in its lawsuit. “The Navy has been aware of and on notice for decades that Red Hill’s tanks (and associated infrastructure, e.g., pipelines) are antiquated, corroding, leaking, improperly operated and maintained, and at risk of catastrophic failure. Immediate action is required.”

The group is also asking the court for litigation costs.

The Hawaii Department of Health gave the Navy until June 30 to complete a defueling schedule after a contractor’s report revealed that “extensive, critical” repairs are needed.

“While the need to defuel Red Hill is urgent, public and environmental safety remain the first priority,” said Kathleen Ho, deputy director of environmental health.

The defueling is coming at a high price tag. Sen. Brian Schatz, D-Hawaii, included $1 billion in federal funding was included in President Biden’s budget in April but said more was needed. The funding is in addition to the $150 million in federal funds secured in March and another $100 million included in an appropriations bill in February, Schatz said.

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