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Pentagon rejects Hawaii order, will appeal decision to empty Red Hill fuel tanks

  • COURTESY DEPT. OF DEFENSE
                                Deputy Secretary of Defense Dr. Kathleen Hicks tours Red Hill Bulk Fuel Storage Facility with senior Naval leadership on Dec. 14.

    COURTESY DEPT. OF DEFENSE

    Deputy Secretary of Defense Dr. Kathleen Hicks tours Red Hill Bulk Fuel Storage Facility with senior Naval leadership on Dec. 14.

  • COURTESY U.S. ARMY
                                Deputy Secretary of Defense Dr. Kathleen Hicks.

    COURTESY U.S. ARMY

    Deputy Secretary of Defense Dr. Kathleen Hicks.

After a meeting with Gov. David Ige, a top Pentagon official said the military would file an appeal to fight a state emergency order calling on the Navy to defuel it’s underground Red Hill storage tanks.

The Hawaii Department of Health demanded the Navy defuel the tanks after a jet fuel leak from the facility contaminated the service’s drinking water system that serves 93,000 people.

Deputy Secretary of Defense Kathleen Hicks and Ige spoke Monday about response efforts and “discussed how we can work together through some pending legal matters” according to a Pentagon media release today attributed to Hicks.

Hicks said that the military is complying with several portions of the order already.

The Navy has suspended fuel operations at the facility.

Hicks also said the military is launching a review of the how the military manages and distributes its fuel reserves in the Pacific and has hired a contractor to conduct a probe of the Red Hill facility.

“However, as we discussed with the Governor, we have a deadline of this Wednesday, February 2, 2022, to file an appeal of DOH’s Final Order, and we are planning to file in both federal and state court by this deadline,” Hicks said in her statement. “This will afford us time to make evidence-based and transparent decisions. Despite these legal process requirements, we hope to collaborate with the State of Hawaii in a way that would allow the parties the time and space needed to reach solutions together. We proposed options for how this might work in an effort to find a mutually agreeable path forward, and we look forward to continuing our dialogue with the Governor, the Attorney General and the Hawaii Department of Health.”

The emergency order requires the Navy to defuel the tanks, but would allow the Navy to refuel them if it can demonstrate to state officials that it can safely operate the facility. The Navy has argued that the state doesn’t have the authority to issue to issue the order.

During a congressional hearing this month, Rear Adm. Blake Converse of the U.S. Pacific Fleet told lawmakers that the Navy would defuel the tanks as called for in the order, but would not rule out potential legal challenges to the order.

“The Secretary of Defense wants to make the ultimate call whether to defuel the Red Hill tanks, rather than comply with the emergency order, which mandates defueling,” said Earthjustice attorney David Henkin, who is representing the Hawaii Sierra Club. “It’s unfortunate that the military persists in thinking that it knows what is best to protect Oahu’s irreplaceable water supply, when recent events vividly illustrate that the military cannot be trusted to protect public health.”

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