Navy’s permit for leaky Red Hill tanks heads to contested case hearing

Court ruling today confirms there is no automatic approval for Navy to operate fuel tanks

Contact: Marti Townsend, Chapter Director
Telephone: 808-372-1314

HONOLULU, HAWAIʻI (February 7, 2020) — Today, the Environmental Court ruled that the Health Department’s expedited rule change to remove language related to automatic approvals for underground storage tanks was sufficient to address the issues raised in Sierra Club’s lawsuit filed in November. With the risk of automatic approvals out of the way, the Navy’s permit application for Red Hill will now be vetted in a formal contested case hearing process brought by the Sierra Club and Honolulu Board of Water Supply. 

“This lawsuit was about making sure the Health Department actually does its job to protect the health of Hawaiʻi’s people and environment,” said Marti Townsend, Sierra Club of Hawaiʻi Director. “It is outrageous that the department would be willing to approve the operation of the Red Hill tanks as is knowing the extreme risk they pose to Oʻahu’s water supply.”

The Navy’s own study shows that the Red Hill tanks have a 27.6% chance of leaking 300,000 gallons of fuel every year. The study also reveals that the tanks could have a chronic leak rate of at least 5,800 gallons annually. 

“The Health Department’s lack of concern about the risk the Red Hill tanks pose to the safety of Oʻahu’s residents is disturbing,” said Townsend, adding, “but this why Hawaiʻi law provides a formal process for reviewing permit applications before they are issued.” 

The contested case hearing will involve the Sierra Club and Honolulu Board of Water Supply, petitioners, and the U.S. Navy, as the applicant for the permit. This process allows the Sierra Club and Board of Water Supply to present evidence, ask questions, and recommend conditions on a future permit that better ensures our island water supply is well protected. 

The Sierra Club of Hawaiʻi filed this lawsuit in November 2019 against the Hawaiʻi Department of Health to prevent the automatic approval of the Navy’s Red Hill tank facility’s operating permit after the Department proposed rules allowing the automatic approval of permit applications after 180 days if no action is taken.

Last month, the Health Department amended its rules to remove the automatic approval of underground storage tank permit applications. This means the Navy’s permit application for the Red Hill tanks was not automatically approved and the tanks are now operating without a permit.

“We all know that the Red Hill tanks are too antiquated to be located 100 feet above Oʻahu’s primary drinking water supply,” added Townsend. “Relocating this fuel to state of the art tanks somewhere makai of the groundwater supply is the only real solution in this situation. The Navy should just get on with it already.” 

Hawaiʻi Senators are currently reviewing a bill aimed at requiring the Navy to relocate the 225 million gallons of fuel at Red Hill. SB2774 will be heard at the Senate Agriculture and Environment Committee on Monday, February 10, 2020 at 2:15 in room 224. 


About the Sierra Club of Hawaiʻi: Formed in 1968, the Sierra Club of Hawaiʻi has over 20,000 members and supporters working throughout the islands to stop climate change, ensure climate justice for all, and protect Hawaiʻi’s unique natural resources. The Sierra Club is the largest, oldest environmental organization in the U.S. We rely on volunteers to support outdoor education programs, trail and native species restoration projects, and grassroots advocacy for sound environmental policies.