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US House passes annual defense bill with $1 billion for Red Hill fuel crisis on O’ahu

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The US House of Representatives passed a national defense bill that includes a 4.6% pay raise for service members and civilians. Photo Credit: David Mark

The US House of Representatives passed a $839 billion national defense bill for FY 2023 that includes $1 billion to address the Red Hill fuel crisis on Oʻahu, strengthening America’s national  defense in the Indo-Pacific, and improving the Department of Defense’s relationship with the local community in Hawaiʻi, US Rep. Ed Case of Hawaiʻi said in a news release. 

This year’s bill supports a 4.6% pay raise for service members and civilians, in addition to supporting inflation bonuses for service members and civilians earning less than $45,000 per year. It also codifies a $15 minimum wage for workers on federal service and construction contracts. 

The defense bill reflects the Hawaiʻi congressional delegation’s continuing efforts “to ensure the military fulfills its promise to close Red Hill and address critical issues, such as expanding transparency, restoring our aquifer and tracking the long-term health of those affected by the  crisis,” Rep. Case said.

In November 2021, fuel leaked from the US Navy-operated Red Hill Underground Fuel Storage Facility into the freshwater aquifer underneath Oʻahu. Residents in military housing in and around Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam reported chemical contamination in their tap water leading to the shutdown of several water sources, a pubic health crisis and environmental disaster.

The National Defense Authorization Act’s Red Hill provisions: 

  • Require the Navy to issue a publicly available report on the status of the $1 billion effort to close the Red Hill Bulk Fuel Storage Facility.  
  • Direct the Department of Defense to determine the need, number and optimal locations of additional sentinel or monitoring wells to detect and track the movement of fuel that has leaked into the ground, in coordination with the US Geological Survey. 
  • Require the Department of Defense to conduct a hydrology study around Red Hill and assess how best to address the water needs on O‘ahu and mitigate water shortages, including water treatment plants or the placement of a new drinking water shaft. 
  • Direct the Department of Defense to track the long-term health implications of fuel leaks from Red Hill for members of the armed forces and their dependents. 
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The defense bill has provisions that require the Department of Defense to develop and implement a Hawai‘i-specific community engagement strategy that strengthens the ties between the military and the local community, and develops a centralized office with better coordination for various community engagement initiatives.

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Another provision requires the Department of Defense to increase cultural support to military units in the state, which includes training on Hawaiian culture and improved consultation with the Native Hawaiian community.

The defense bill authorizes crucial investments in America’s global network of alliances and partnerships, including more than $7 billion in funding for the Pacific Deterrence Initiative. 

Rep. Case said the bill reaffirms Hawaiʻi as a critical component and the country’s commitment to this region.

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“These provisions, especially the Pacific Deterrence Initiative, will keep America competitive against China and reassure our friends and allies that the US will be there for them as we defend our shared values,” Rep. Case said.

To strengthen America’s presences in the Indo-Pacific, the defense bill also requires the military to submit a report on the advisability of enhancing defense cooperation with partners in the region and includes expanding the role of the National Guard in support of these initiatives, especially in  Oceania. 

It directs the Department of Defense and the US Agency for International Development to provide an independent assessment of the resources needed to fulfill the Indo-Pacific Strategy.

And, it directs the military to increase its support for the Compact negotiations with the Freely  Associated States – the Federated States of Micronesia, the Republic of the Marshall Islands and the Republic of Palau – that are essential to US security.  

Rep. Case said other floor amendments he introduced include: 

  • Shipyard Infrastructure Optimization Program Facilities Review: Directs the Navy to study ways to improve the program’s efforts to optimize facilities and replace outdated equipment, such as those at Pearl Harbor Naval Shipyard and Intermediate Maintenance  Facility. 
  • Improving Oversight of Large Construction Projects: Requires the Department of Defense to review the Navy’s ability to manage, supervise and inspect projects that cost more than $500 million, including projects in Hawai‘i.  
  • Underground Facilities in Hawai‘i: Requires the military to survey underground tunnels and facilities like the Red Hill Bulk Fuel Storage  Facility located in Hawai‘i. 
  • Joint Base Military Construction Assessment: Requires the Department of Defense to review prioritization of military construction, maintenance and upgrades of joint base infrastructure and facilities, with a particular focus on facilities belonging to subordinate services relative to the lead service on joint bases, such as Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam. 

The bill includes $856 million in military construction projects in Hawai‘i,  including: 

  • Maui Secure Integration Support Lab: $89 million 
  • Pearl Harbor Dry Dock: $621 million 
  • Pearl Harbor Primary Electrical Distribution Upgrade: $25  million 
  • Marine Corps Base Kāne‘ohe Bay Bachelor Enlisted Quarters:  $88 million 
  • Kapolei National Guard Readiness Center: $29 million to Tripler Army Medical Center Water System Upgrades: $2  million  
  • Fort Shafter Water System Upgrades: $2 million  

Other provisions in the defense bill:

  • Directs the Army to brief the Committee on Armed Services on  measures taken to consult with Native Hawaiian organizations on the timing, planning, methodology and implementation for removing unexploded ordnance and other contaminants at Pōhakuloa Training Area.
  • Authorizes the transfer of the former Barber’s Point utility system to the State of Hawai‘i. 
  • Authorizes the construction of two new Virginia-Class Submarines that will be maintained at the Pearl Harbor Naval Shipyard and Intermediate Maintenance Facility. 
  • Expresses Congressional support for the US defense relationship with Taiwan, a key effort for the Hawai‘i National Guard.  
  • Requires US Indo-Pacific Command to provide a report to Congress describing the support and sustainment for critical capabilities necessary to meet operational requirements in a conflict.
  • Requires an independent study on fuel distribution logistics in the Indo-Pacific area of responsibility and quarterly reporting on the progress made in establishing permanent fuel logistics points. 
  • Requires the Department of Defense to analyze Chinese influence in the Pacific Islands region in its annual Report on Military and Security Developments Involving the People’s Republic of China
  • Expresses congressional support for South Korea as a critical ally of the United States and requires a briefing on how the Department of Defense will seek to implement the US extended deterrence commitment to Korea. 

 A summary of the bill is available here. The US Senate’s defense bill for 2023 has passed the Senate Armed Services Committee and will now go before the full Senate for consideration.

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