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Pentagon will fight Hawaii’s order requiring the Navy to drain leaky fuel tanks at Pearl Harbor

Updated: Feb 4, 2022

The Defense Department said this week it will appeal an emergency order issued by the Hawaii Department of Health that requires the Navy to drain fuel storage tanks at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam that leaked into the water supply.

Hawaii issued that order after dozens of military families complained about health problems at the base. Defense Department officials initially insisted that the water was safe, but in December, they acknowledged the problem, and Secretary of the Navy Carlos Del Toro apologized for putting military families in an “unsafe condition.”

Deputy Defense Secretary Kathleen Hicks said in a Jan. 31 statement that the Pentagon is taking several steps to address the problem, including suspending fuel transfer operations at the site, assessing the problems and installing new equipment to “treat and protect Oahu’s water resources.”

But Hicks also said DOD would appeal Hawaii’s order to drain the tanks.

“[A]s we discussed with the Governor, we have a deadline of this Wednesday, February 2, 2022, to file an appeal of DOH's Final Order, and we are planning to file in both federal and state court by this deadline,” she said. “This will afford us time to make evidence-based and transparent decisions. Despite these legal process requirements, we hope to collaborate with the State of Hawaii in a way that would allow the parties the time and space needed to reach solutions together.”

Hicks released that statement after speaking with Hawaii Gov. David Ige (D). She said despite the pending challenge to the Hawaii order, DOD continues to take the issue “seriously,” and is continuing to work to address the problem.

“We proposed options for how this might work in an effort to find a mutually agreeable path forward, and we look forward to continuing our dialogue with the Governor, the Attorney General and the Hawaii Department of Health,” she wrote.

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