No Automatic Approval for Navy’s Red Hill Tanks

After successful lawsuit, Sierra Club pursues contested case to ensure Health Department better protects Oʻahu’s water supply

Media Contact: Marti Townsend, Director
Phone: (808) 372-1314

HONOLULU, HAWAIʻI (January 10, 2020) — In response to a Sierra Club lawsuit, this week the Hawaiʻi Department of Health amended its rules to prevent the automatic approval of underground storage tank permit applications. This means the Navy’s permit application to the Health Department for the Red Hill tanks will not be automatically approved.

“The Sierra Club sued because for months the Department of Health had been sitting on the Navy’s permit application to operate the antiquated and leaky tanks at Red Hill,” explains Marti Townsend, Sierra Club of Hawaiʻi Director. “We were worried that the Navy’s application would be automatically approved. These are tanks that the Navy’s own consultant calculated have a 27.6% chance of leaking 30,000 gallons of fuel per year.”

The previous version of the Health Department’s rules had directed that all underground storage permits be automatically approved if no action was taken by the Department within 180 days after a permit application is submitted. Automatic approval of operating permits is problematic because it undermines a robust permit review process, which is fundamental to state agencies fulfilling their responsibility to protect the public. It is unacceptable that a permit to operate something as dangerous as the antiquated Red Hill tanks could be issued without a full review of the permit conditions or the risks posed by these high-risk storage tanks.  

The Navy’s Red Hill fuel tanks pose a uniquely high risk to public health because it stores 225 million gallons of jet fuel 100 feet above Oʻahu’s primary groundwater aquifer. This aquifer supplies drinking water for a quarter of Oʻahu’s population from Hālawa to Hawaiʻi Kai. According to Navy documents, at least 200,000 gallons of fuel has leaked from the facility since it was built in 1943. In 2014, 27,000 gallons of jet fuel leaked from Red Hill and has not been cleaned up. 

A contested case hearing on the Navy’s application is slated to take place later this year. The Honolulu Board of Water Supply is also a party to this contested case.

In the meantime, according to Townsend, “the Navy currently has no permit to operate tanks at Red Hill. So the fact that these tanks are in use now violates Hawaiʻi’s underground storage tank laws, which are designed to protect the public’s health and the environment.”


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.