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Wednesday, May 15, 2024
Environmentalists hit snag in Navy fuel contamination case  
By Court House News @ 5:05 PM :: 1063 Views :: Honolulu County, Environment, Military

Environmentalists hit snag in Navy fuel contamination case  

A Hawaii group accusing the military of contaminating the islands' waters with jet fuel will get a chance to clarify parts of their environmental endangerment claims, but may have to wait until ongoing defueling is completed.

by Candace Cheung, Court House News,  May 14, 2024

HONOLULU (CN) — A federal judge set back a Hawaii environmental nonprofit’s case against the U.S. Navy for contamination of the ecosystem near the military’s Red Hill Bulk Fuel Storage Facility Tuesday, dismissing a portion their environmental endangerment claims.

U.S. District Judge Leslie Kobayashi dismissed the complaint but will allow Wai Ola Alliance to submit a third amended complaint specifying their claims as they apply to issues with the defueling and closure of the Red Hill facility not covered in administrative orders from the Environmental Protection Agency and the Hawaii Department of Health.

“In the instant case, although this court is competent to decide issues regarding the defueling and closure of Red Hill,” Kobayashi wrote. “It would be inefficient for this court to undertake either review of the defueling process, which defendants represented at the hearing was almost complete, or review of the closure process, which is underway with significant oversight by DOH and the EPA.”

Citing the Clean Water Act and the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act, Wai Ola points specifically to the potential decades of fuel leaks from the World War II-era facility that they say have infiltrated nearby groundwaters along with waters in Halawa Stream and Pearl Harbor, affecting the animals living along the shoreline and degrading waters that hold cultural significance to Native Hawaiians.

The facility's massive 20 underground storage tanks and miles of pipes also risk contaminating Oahu’s main aquifer, which sits just 100 feet below the facility and provides water to over three-fourths of the island.

Wai Ola maintains that the water crisis is ongoing and that a May 2022 emergency order from the Department of Health and 2023 Consent Order from the EPA guiding the ongoing closure and defueling process of Red Hill — predicted to not be completed until at least 2028 — are not enough to clean up or prevent continued pollution.

The alliance also argues that the administrative orders do not address aquifer remediation, Clean Water Act violations or identification of the source of the violations.

Kobayashi disagreed with the government’s contention that any ruling arising from the case would conflict with federal agency action.

“This court’s review of those issues would not disrupt the state’s efforts to establish coherent policy in its programs under RCRA and the CWA, and this court’s decision on the remaining portions of the citizen suit will not intrude upon the state’s interests,” she wrote.

Kobayashi also ruled that once the amended complaint is submitted, the portions already covered by administrative procedures will be stayed for at least year, pending the ongoing defueling the Navy began in October 2023.

Experts have estimated at least 1.94 million gallons of toxic fuel have been discharged from the facility since 1943, though military inspections throughout have consistently declared it safe.

State officials are also taking steps to put pressure on the Navy to follow through with environmental remediation of Red Hill.

Neither the Navy nor Wai Ola Alliance immediately responded to a request for comment.

The alliance first sued the Navy in 2022, several months after reports of an extensive fuel leak from Red Hill emerged alongside reports from nearby residents — including the Navy’s own members and their dependents — of severe illnesses. Trial for a case brought by of those families against the Navy for the contamination is ongoing in federal court in Hawaii.

BL: Navy Gets Partial Success in Pausing Hawaii Fuel Leak Claims 

 

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