EPA administrator visits Red Hill fuel tanks, pledges independent investigation

The head of the EPA said it will conduct an investigation of the fuel leak at the Navy’s Red Hill fuel facility that contaminated the drinking water supply.
Published: Feb. 24, 2022 at 9:35 PM HST|Updated: Feb. 25, 2022 at 5:08 AM HST
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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - The head of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency said it will conduct an investigation of the fuel leak at the Navy’s Red Hill fuel storage facility that contaminated the drinking water supply.

It’s the latest in a long list of investigations at the city, state and federal levels. But the EPA is uniquely suited for the job, because it is responsible for enforcing the nation’s Clean Water Act.

“At the end of the day, no family should have to question the quality of their drinking water,” said EPA Administrator Michael Regan, a day after touring the facility.

Regan said the agency will find out what went wrong at Red Hill, before, during, and after the fuel spill.

“And so we’re going to move in, do our inspection, and we’re going to do our jobs. And we want the communities to have faith that we’re going to do our jobs as an independent agency,” he said.

“The EPA Administrator for the country is here saying that they will conduct a full, independent and exhaustive investigation,” said U.S. Rep. Ed Case. “They don’t do that very often.”

Regan said he already noted several things that need correction, but didn’t elaborate.

It’s not the first time the EPA has conducted an investigation at the facility. After a major leak in 2014, the agency improved its monitoring, but was still surprised by November’s leak.

“The scenario of direct oil into the shaft is nothing we could have imagined at the time,” said Martha Guzman, the Region 9 Administrator for the EPA. “There was a drain that none of us even knew about that allowed for a direct flow into the shaft.”

“We know that there’s been a loss of trust in the state, federal and local governments,” said Regan.

Restoring that trust is a tall order. Navy wife and mom Jamie Simic was hospitalized with what doctors told her what short-term hydrocarbon toxicity. She and her family have been staying in a hotel since the crisis began.

We asked her what her next step would be.

“We have to go back to Florida,” she said as she began to tear up. “This is my home.”

Pearl Harbor Peninsula became the second neighborhood cleared for water use. Oahu native Dee Momilani lives there.

She’s been living on bottled water since early December. She wants the fuel tanks shut down.

“It’s gonna corrode. It’s only gonna further corrode our drinking water,” Momilani said. “I don’t want my home island to live like me. I don’t.”

The EPA didn’t say how long the investigation will take or how it will be conducted, but Regan pledged that it will be thorough.

“We’re going to take a look and really look very closely at whether or not the facility has operated within the guidelines of the law, and if it hasn’t, then we will have to make some corrections there.”

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