Native Hawaiians Fight US Navy for Polluting Island’s Water
(December 13, 2021) — Under the cover of pre-dawn darkness, Native Hawaiians surprised guards at the gates of the US Navy Command with a civil disobedience action over the #RedHill fuel leak. Empire Files producer Mike Prysner was on the ground.
The US Military Is Polluting Hawaii’s Water Supply — And Denying It
Wayne Tanaka /The Guardian
The Hawaiian governor issued an
emergency order to de-fuel the Red Hill Facility.
The US Navy has enlisted top lawyers to make sure
600m liters of petroleum doesn’t spill into water supply
(January 4, 2022) — “This [fuel facility] is not the eighth wonder of the world. It is Frankenstein’s monster. And we have to kill it before it kills us.” This is the plea from Marti Townsend, one of more than 1,000 Hawai’i residents urging the Honolulu City Council to take action to protect our island’s most important resource: fresh, clean water.
Frankenstein’s monster is the US Navy’s Red Hill Fuel Storage Facility: a massive underground “farm” of 18-million liter fuel tanks and pipes just 100 feet above metropolitan O’ahu. Its construction began before the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor. Since then, it has leaked over 180,000 gallons of petroleum into the groundwater aquifer that provides drinking water for over 400,000 residents and visitors from Hālawa to Hawaiʻi Kai.
Despite its longstanding threat to water systems, this decrepit facility has been in use until operations were “paused” in late November, after hundreds of military families reported rashes, headaches, nausea, vomiting — symptoms of petroleum poisoning.
The Navy denied these facts for days. “We have no immediate indication that the water is unsafe to drink,” their representatives said, even after the Navy had quietly shut down its own drinking water well. Pearl Harbor’s commander even told our community — of sick families, pregnant women and nursing moms — that “my staff and I are drinking the water on base.” Hawai‘i’s Health Department finally stepped in, advising Navy water system users not to drink their tap water.
Navy officials still refuse to acknowledge that this is a crisis. It views the Governor’s emergency order to de-fuel the Red Hill Facility as a mere “request,” and has enlisted top Navy lawyers to make sure its 600m liters of petroleum stay perched above our water supply.
A military spouse in our legal proceedings this week sobbed as she describedthe family dog rejecting its water dish for days. Another mother teared up as she remembered her infant child vomiting constantly after the Navy advised that her water was safe (it wasn’t); their own beloved and once-healthy dog had to be put down, after thousands of dollars could not diagnose its sudden debilitating illness.
The Navy’s Assistant Secretary, in his subsequent remote testimony from the nation’s capital, even had the gall to complain that he had missed that night’s weekly American football game.
The injustice of the Red Hill tragedy reflects the impunity of the US military — not only in its endless wars in the Middle East, but right here in Hawai’i. A fraction of the US’s $768bn defense budget could help boost our ailing and inequitable healthcare system, provide free college for all, or make the investments needed to halve our carbon emissions and help keep entire countries from heartbreaking devastation. Yet every year our politicians pour ever more taxpayer dollars into the planet’s most expensive, and deadly, machine.
Not even Hawai‘i’s federal delegation has been to stand up to this mighty power. Their long-due request to the US federal government has been milquetoast: we need more studies, and we need to fix some pipes. Only Representative Kai Kahele, the only Hawai‘i delegate with military experience, has acknowledged that the facility must be defueled.
The US commander-in-chief, President Joe Biden, has yet to even acknowledge the situation.
Frankenstein’s monster is not just the facility: it is the larger US military machine. America’s elected leaders are unable and unwilling to rein in this monster that consumes ever more of the country’s resources as it poisons our atmosphere and now, our island’s water. These leaders dare to call themselves representatives of the people while allegedly lying under oath, letting military families be poisoned, and sacrificing entire islands of US citizens.
While America’s Frankenstein may consume its creator, the people of Hawai‘i will resist it. We think about the ones we love, our children and grandchildren, and what we would do to protect them from harm. Our weapons are not guns and ships but words, signs, songs, and aloha ʻāina, love for our home, for each other. Native Hawaiians, whose ancestors have always understood the importance of wai, of water, who have fought and died and won against the US Navy before, are now leading the fight to fix a mess they had no hand in making.
“History will remember the people that stood up,” Dr. Kamanamaikalani Beamer recently told a crowd of several hundred at the steps of Hawai‘i’s capitol, by the statue of Hawai‘i’s last queen, herself unlawfully deposed by the US Navy. “We will regain control and authority over our resources to do what is pono (just) because we must preserve them for the generations to come. There are more battles on this issue. We’re not making suggestions to the military. We are making demands.”
Wayna Tanaka is Director for the Sierra Club of Hawai’i.
Posted in accordance with Title 17, Section 107, US Code, for noncommercial, educational purposes.