Sierra Club calls for decommissioning of Red Hill fuel tanks

The nonprofit says the navy-EPA agreement to retrofit and monitor the historically leaky tanks near Pearl Harbor is inadequate.

Above: Former Secretary of the Navy Donald C. Winter tours the Red Hill underground fuel storage facility in 2007 to get a first-hand look at the condition of the tanks. | wikimedia

The Sierra Club of Hawaii has expressed “extreme disappointment” in Governor Ige, the U.S. Navy, and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for agreeing to a settlement that the nonprofit says does not do nearly enough to protect Oahu’s drinking water from the massive, “historically leaky” fuel storage tanks beneath Red Hill.

“The Navy should not be allowed to take unacceptable risks like this with our water,” said Sierra Club of Hawaii Director Marti Townsend. “The tanks have already leaked, future leaks are foreseeable, and there no is way to treat leaks before contamination reaches our water; the only reasonable course of action is to retire the storage tanks.

“Public safety dictates we take the most precautionary course of action,” added Townsend. “Hawaii’s Commission on Water Resources, Honolulu’s Board of Water Supply, 18 legislators, and hundreds of residents have expressed serious concerns about the inadequacy of the Navy’s proposed agreement. Yet, these substantive recommendations were not adopted in the final agreement.

“It is misleading to say that these historic tanks comply with current state and federal requirements for underground storage tanks because these tanks are exempt from the most meaningful requirements, such as double-lining,” said Townsend.

The Sierra Club says its own research into the Red Hill situation found that these 70-year-old tanks cannot be brought into compliance with current standards for underground storage tanks.

“This means the Navy cannot ensure that fuel released from these tanks will be contained before it reaches the environment, ” said Townsend.

In addition, Sierra Club found that there are no known methods for removing jet fuel from bedrock, which surrounds the tanks.

“The reality is that adding more monitoring wells around the tanks is, itself, a risk because drilling could fracture the bedrock, creating new cracks that would lead the fuel directly to our underground drinking water aquifer,” Townsend said.

“There is no justification for exposing the people of Hawaii to this kind of risk,” continued Townsend. “The U.S. Navy and the industries that rely on these fuel reserves should immediately identify new storage arrangements that comply with today’s strict environmental standards and retire these historic tanks.”

Blue Planet: Utilities’ community solar proposal disappointing

The nonprofit says that the proposed program fails to live up to lawmakers’ vision for dramatically expanding access to clean energy in Hawaii; stakeholders intend to submit a revised proposal.

Above: A community solar project in Berkeley, California | Wikimedia

As mandated by Act 100, signed by Governor David Ige in June 2015, Hawaii’s utilities, today, filed their version of a proposed program for community solar. Sometimes called “community solar gardens” or “shared renewables,” the promise of community solar is that it can make clean power more accessible for Hawaii residents that don’t have their own roof, such as renters and condo dwellers, as well as for businesses and nonprofits.

“Communities in Hawaii have waited a long time for this,” said Jeff Mikulina, Executive Director of the Blue Planet Foundation. “Community solar has sprouted up all around the country. Blue Planet first proposed this to the Hawaii legislature three years ago, but it met resistance from the utilities. We applaud the utilities for finally taking this step and submitting today’s proposal as the law required but, unfortunately, the utilities’ vision falls short of meeting the law’s goal of dramatically expanding access to clean power.”

Blue Planet Foundation and other local clean energy experts have worked with community solar experts from other parts of the country to identify the key elements for a successful program. One key is to create a system that puts all utility customers on equal footing in terms of access to solar power, and that welcomes innovative new business and social models for sharing that power. In contrast, the new utility proposal is more limited—capped at no more than 32 megawatts over the next few years, for the whole state. This amounts to only about 10 percent of the rooftop solar capacity that has already been installed over the past few years.

The utility proposal also treats community solar customers very differently from rooftop solar customers, crediting them about half of what current rooftop solar customers are credited for the same amount of power. In addition, Blue Planet says the utility proposal will make community innovation virtually impossible because it pushes the utility’s own business model onto everyone else.

Blue Planet intends to work with other clean energy stakeholders to revise the proposal in the hope that they can still quickly make community solar available to residents and businesses around the state.

“We hope that the utilities and Public Utilities Commission will see the logic in taking lessons from community solar policies in other states,” said Mikulina. “For example, New York recently ordered its utilities to implement community solar in a way that treats community solar customers the same as rooftop solar customers, and that promotes “innovation zones” to target low-income communities. Hawaii deserves the same focus on innovation, and Act 100 demands it.”

Senator slams Red Hill agreement, Gov. says ‘meh’

State senator Laura Thielen says she is disappointed in the Red Hill agreement reached with the Navy today.

Senator Laura Thielen deems Honolulu’s drinking water to be at continued contamination risk even after the Navy and the state struck an agreement today concerning leaks from fuel tanks at the Red Hill facility.

Thielen expressed dissatisfaction in the final agreement with the U.S. Navy and the Defense Logistics Agency, which the senator says does not take more substantial and timely action to minimize the threat of future leaks at the Red Hill Bulk Fuel Storage Facility.

“It appears the state did not substantially alter the agreement with the Navy, which is extremely disappointing,” said Thielen in a press release. “The Navy is not being held to upgrading the tanks to the best available technology, which is double lining. Moreover, the Navy is still being allowed more than 20 years to upgrade the 70-plus year old tanks, which means we continue to place one of our largest drinking water sources for Honolulu at risk for contamination with deadly chemicals for the next two decades.”

Governor Ige also released a statement today, saying that “The state will be safer and better off with this agreement than it would be without it. We listened carefully to the concerns of stakeholders whose input has strengthened the administrative order. This is the start of long-overdue action to make Hawaii safer. It will increase transparency and is the best mechanism for holding the Navy accountable. The agreement will provide the framework for the state to address concerns about the safety of drinking water for our keiki and their families.” 

But Thielen was critical of the administration as well. “I am disappointed that the Administration ignored the primary public comments which sought stronger protection of our public aquifer, including recommendations from the Commission of Water Resource Management and the Honolulu Board of Water Supply,” she said.

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