The U.S. Senate today passed a funding bill that includes a provision requiring the Department of Defense to abide by a state emergency order to defuel the tanks at the Navy’s underground Red Hill Bulk Fuel Storage Facility and provide $100 million in funding for the process.
The Navy has resisted the order, issued in December after fuel from the facility tainted the service’s water system that serves 93,000 people on Oahu.
Sen. Brian Schatz authored the provision in the the short-term funding bill, which will avert a government shutdown.
“We now have the funding to defuel, and Congress has made its position clear: it’s time for the DoD to drain the tanks and follow the state’s order,” said Schatz, a member of the Senate Appropriations Committee, in a release. “We still have more work to do, but we are making progress.”
The release said the $100 million represents the first round of funding to defuel Red Hill. Congress is expected to take up a larger appropriations package next month.
The Pentagon argued the state of Hawaii lacks the authority to order the defuelment.
The bill specifies the money is “for the Secretary of Defense to conduct activities in compliance with the State of Hawai‘i Department of Health Order 21-UST-EA-02, signed December 6, 2021, related to the removal of fuel from and improvement of infrastructure at the Red Hill Bulk Fuel Storage Facility.” It also includes $250 million in funding for the Navy, Marine Corps, Army, and Air Force to cover expenses incurred due to the drinking water contamination.
The crisis has displaced up to 4,000 military families, many of which have been temporarily living in hotels in Waikiki as they commute to work and school.
Meanwhile, troops have been reassigned from regular duties to assist with the flushing of waterlines, as well as water deliveries to impacted families who stayed in military housing.
“The Department of Defense must fully comply with the State of Hawaii’s Executive Order to defuel the tanks at Red Hill and this funding is necessary step to ensure that happens,” U.S. Sen. Mazie Hirono said in a separate statement. “I’m pleased we were also able to secure funding for costs incurred to cover emergencies and extraordinary expenses for families and businesses who have been impacted.”