Who’s fueling RIMPAC?

Today is the start of the Rim of the Pacific Exercise, better known to us as RIMPAC—the largest international maritime exercise in the world. These war games happen every other year, right here in Hawaiian waters, bringing in over 20,000 military personnel from 26 nations, to our remote islands.

From today until August 2, military branches from all over the world will gather in Hawaiʻi’s waters, soils, and skies with 47 surface ships, 5 submarines, 18 national land forces, and more than 200 aircraft.(1) Looking beyond, for a moment, the direct environmental and human impacts of these war games (we’ll come back to that), one might ask—who and what fuels all of these vehicles? Glad you asked.

Exercises like these require tens of millions of gallons of fossil fuels. There is only one place in the entire Pacific that has the storage capabilities to fuel exercises at this level. You guessed it, the U.S. Navy’s Red Hill Bulk Fuel Storage Facility. What a coincidence.

The same giant, antiquated tanks that risk Oʻahu’s ground and drinking water every single day, fuel these controversial, detrimental war games. And the U.S. Navy does so proudly.(2)

But it is not just the massive amounts of available fossil fuels that attracts RIMPAC to the Hawaiian Islands. It is for the same exact reason that as early as 1873 the U.S. military sought to gain control of the islands.(3) Puʻuloa’s (Pearl Harbor) location was viewed as the ultimate place for commercial import and military defense throughout the greater Pacific.(4) And for RIMPAC, “offer[s] realistic, relevant training opportunity like nowhere else in the world.”(5) Sigh.

Obviously, these exercises come at a cost to Hawaiʻi’s environment and people. It is no secret that the U.S. military in itself is the largest polluter in the world.(6) To that point, RIMPAC exercises include the intense use of sonar and explosive devices. Concentrated use of sonar and explosives impact marine ecosystems, especially marine mammals, which lead to injuries, beaching, and die-offs. During the 2004 RIMPAC exercises, 150 melon-headed whales stormed into Hanalei Bay—likely in response to the exercises’ sonar use.(7)

Military explosive training and devices have been devastating Hawaiʻi for decades. Live-fire training has taken place in Mākua Valley and Līhuʻe (Schofield Barracks) on Oʻahu, Pōhakuloa on Hawaiʻi Island, and Kahoʻolawe. After years and years of community pressure, live-fire training has ceased in Mākua and on Kahoʻolawe but the cultural and biological landscapes of these areas have been destroyed—Kahoʻolawe was bombed so intensely that the island’s water table was cracked so the island is now without freshwater. To this day, Līhuʻe and Pōhakuloa are still being subject to live-fire training on an even greater scale. In recent landmark decision came a small ray of hope, a Honolulu Circuit Court judge ruled that the state did not uphold its duties when the Department of Land and Natural Resources failed to ensure the Army cleaned up munitions after trainings. The order requires DLNR to ensure the Army’s compliance with the lease in order to enter into a new lease in 2029.

The military justifies the destruction of Hawaiʻi’s special places, pollute our fertile soils and waters, and harm our wildlife, all in the name of national security. But grassroots people power has prevailed in the past and will continue to do so in the future. Community pressure stopped the destructive bombing of Kahoʻolawe and community-backed litigation ceased fire in Mākua Valley. There cannot be national security if the people of Hawaiʻi and the greater Pacific do not have access to land to produce their own food or clean, life-sustaining waters.

That is why the Sierra Club of Hawaiʻi is continuing in its fight to protect Oʻahu’s water from the Navy’s Red Hill underground storage tanks. We believe that the military can and should be doing more to protect our freshwater resources. Since the latest and largest spill in 2014, grassroots power has impacted the Navy’s process and progress of fixing the tanks or ultimately relocating the fuel.

There are many groups working to fight RIMPAC, militarization and its impacts. We encourage you to join World Can’t Wait Hawaiʻi and allies in this fight to protect Hawaiʻi, its people, and its finite resources on Saturday, July 7. Details for the protest can be found here.

Our criticism of the military is on the institution and not on any individual’s service to the armed forces and their country.


(1) https://news.usni.org/2018/06/26/rim-of-the-pacific-2018-participation
(2) https://www.cnic.navy.mil/content/cnic/cnic_hq/regions/cnrh/om/environmental/red-hill-tank/_jcr_content/par1/pdfdownload_6/file.res/CNRH_Red_Hill_Stakeholder_Letter_23_September_2016.pdf
(3) Dye, Bob (January 1, 1997). Merchant Prince of the Sandalwood Mountains: Afong and the Chinese in Hawai’i. Hawaii: University of Hawaii Press. p. 115. ISBN 978-0-8248-1772-5.
(4) https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/world/2017/12/05/america-needed-pearl-harbor-history-led-devastating-attack/922906001/
(5) https://cnic.navy.mil/regions/cnrh/news/2014/impact-of-rimpac–balancing-the-benefits.html
(6) http://www.newsweek.com/2014/07/25/us-department-defence-one-worlds-biggest-polluters-259456.html
(7) http://hpr2.org/post/rimpac-invites-ships-world-nations-and-environmental-fury