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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City attorney responds to ACLU lawsuit

City and County of Honolulu Corporation Counsel Donna Leong issued the following statement today in response to a lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union of Hawai‘i Foundation:

“The Department of the Corporation Counsel will defend the city in this lawsuit vigorously. In other challenges, federal courts have upheld the constitutionality of the Stored Property and Sidewalk Nuisance Ordinances. The ordinances support the safety, health, and welfare of all residents of the City and County of Honolulu and the city believes the ordinances will survive the current challenge.

“The city will continue to enforce the Stored Property and Sidewalk Nuisance Ordinances.”

Honolulu county sued over houseless sweeps

More than a dozen houseless and formerly houseless individuals filed a class action lawsuit over the city’s immediate destruction of property today.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Hawaii Foundation (ACLU) and the law firm of Alston Hunt Floyd & Ing filed a class-action lawsuit today against the City and County of Honolulu in federal court. The lawsuit alleges that the city violated the United States Constitution when it destroyed personal property belonging to the plaintiffs—who are or have been homeless—without due process of law.

The lawsuit alleges that instead of impounding and storing seized property and giving adequate opportunity to reclaim the items, property seized by city officials was instead immediately destroyed. The lawsuit also alleges that no notice, receipt, or information regarding how property might be recovered was given to the plaintiffs.

The lawsuit seeks stop the city from violating the plaintiffs’ constitutional rights; end the practice of destroying personal property without following procedures; and to require the city to pay damages and attorneys’ fees.

In one unannounced sweep in Kakaako, on November 13, 2014, city officials allegedly seized and destroyed plaintiffs’ property, including their food, childrenʻs toys, prescription medications and government identification documents. In some cases, entire tents, obviously filled with personal belongings, were thrown into a waiting garbage truck and crushed. City workers have repeatedly refused to allow property owners to retrieve necessary personal belongings like medications and identification documents, instead threatening them with arrest if they interfere with the sweep. The lawsuit alleges that the city continues to violate the Constitution in its sweeps by announcing that it will immediately destroy certain items (like tarps and perishable food) and that it will arrest anyone who gets in the way.

“The Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments prohibit the government from seizing a person’s property and destroying it without due process, but that’s exactly what happened to the plaintiffs,” said attorney Kristin L. Holland, of counsel with the law firm of Alston, Hunt, Floyd and Ing. “We will seek all available remedies for our clients, and will work to ensure that these violations do not recur.”

“The Constitution protects us all equally, regardless of who we are and whether we are rich or poor,” said ACLU Hawaii Legal Director Dan Gluck. “Using arrests to solve homelessness and destroying what little property a homeless individual has to survive is contrary to a fair and just community. All these policies do is set families back and makes it harder for them to build productive lives.”

“Like many people here, my husband and I are working hard. Weʻre saving up for a small apartment for us and our four-year-old daughter,” said Tabatha Martin, one of the plaintiffs. “Every time the city comes and throws away our tents, or our clothes, or our IDs, they throw away our lives. We have to start all over again and pay to replace those things. All of our savings are used up, keeping us on the street even longer.”