A coalition of eminent progressives from across the globe—including environmentalist Naomi Klein and intellectual Noam Chomsky—demanded Tuesday that the U.S. Navy immediately shutter its aging Red Hill facility in Honolulu, Hawaii, where a major fuel leak has contaminated local drinking water and displaced thousands of residents.
In a new open letter, members of the Progressive International Council noted that since its construction in the 1940s, the Red Hill Underground Fuel Storage Facility has “leaked at least 180,000 gallons of petroleum-based fuel into the soils and waters of the island,” and “nearly 200 million gallons still remain in the leaking underground tanks.”
“In the face of clear attempts by the U.S. Navy to cover up for it… President Joe Biden remains silent.”
“And yet—in the face of clear attempts by the U.S. Navy to cover up for it—President Joe Biden remains silent,” the letter reads. “We, the undersigned, call for an immediate closure of the Red Hill facility and full reparations for its victims.”
On Monday, Hawaii’s Department of Health upheld Democratic Gov. David Ige’s emergency order requiring the Navy to drain Red Hill’s World War II-era fuel tanks, a decision that environmentalists applauded—while making clear that the steps were long overdue.
The state health department began receiving complaints of a “fuel or gasoline-like odor” from Oahu residents in late November, and the Sierra Club of Hawaii recently argued that the Red Hill fuel tanks have “always leaked.”
“While we wish it didn’t take families and pets being poisoned to get Hawaii’s leaders finally on board with shutting down Red Hill, this is a strong and much-needed shift in action that should have happened years ago,” Anna Chua, Red Hill community organizer with the Sierra Club, wrote in a blog post last month.
Navy officials are reportedly mulling whether to challenge the governor’s emergency order in court.
David Henkin, an attorney for Earthjustice, urged the Navy not to do so, warning that “the threat to Oahu’s irreplaceable drinking water supply is far too dire for lawyers’ games.”
“It is time for the Navy finally to do the right thing and promptly comply with the Department of Health’s order to defuel the Red Hill tanks,” Henkin said in a statement.
As the Associated Press reported Monday, Deputy Attorney General David Day has voiced agreement with environmentalists’ view of the fuel tanks, which he described as a “ticking time bomb.”
Progressive International’s open letter argues that “the U.S. government is committing a crime of historic proportions against the people of Hawaii” by refusing to drain Red Hill’s fuel tanks and shutter the facility, which bolsters the U.S. military’s operations in the Pacific.
“The U.S. Navy continues to reject calls by residents and the state government to drain the remaining tanks,” the letter notes. “The health of hundreds of thousands across Oahu is now in jeopardy. To be sure, the tanks sit above the Oahu Basal Aquifer, which provides drinking water for more than 400,000 people, from Hālawa to Hawaii Kai.”
“This is the legacy of militarization in the Pacific Ocean: death, devastation, and displacement,” the letter adds.
Echoing the longstanding calls of local residents, Progressive International said its “demand is simple: Shut down Red Hill. Drain the tanks. And repair what they have destroyed.”
Read the full open letter and list of signatories:
At this very moment, the U.S. government is committing a crime of historic proportions against the people of Hawai’i.
At the Red Hill Bulk Fuel Storage Facility just meters above the metropolitan area of Honolulu, the U.S. Navy has leaked thousands of gallons of petroleum and toxic chemicals—poisoning residents, displacing whole communities, and threatening all life on the island of O’ahu.
And yet—in the face of clear attempts by the U.S. Navy to cover up for it—President Joe Biden remains silent. We, the undersigned, call for an immediate closure of the Red Hill facility and full reparations for its victims.
Since the early 1940s, the Red Hill site has leaked at least 180,000 gallons of petroleum-based fuel into the soils and waters of the island. Nearly 200 million gallons still remain in the leaking underground tanks.
The images now emerging from the disaster site are impossible to ignore. Poisoned drinking water has sickened entire communities. Fumes emanate from the ground and taps. Hundreds of families have left or been evacuated from their homes with no assurance where they will now live.
Yet the U.S. Navy continues to reject calls by residents and the state government to drain the remaining tanks. The health of hundreds of thousands across O’ahu is now in jeopardy. To be sure, the tanks sit above the O’ahu Basal Aquifer, which provides drinking water for more than 400,000 people, from Hālawa to Hawai’i Kai.
This is the legacy of militarization in the Pacific Ocean: death, devastation, and displacement.
On Enewetak Atoll in the Marshall Islands, the U.S. government built the “Tomb,” a nuclear coffin to bury 88,000 cubic meters of its radioactive waste. It is now leaking into the sea. Thousands of Micronesians continue to suffer from the effects of the 67 atomic and thermonuclear weapons detonated in the Marshall Islands as part of the U.S. Nuclear Testing Program. Likewise, thousands of Polynesians still suffer the health effects of fallout from French nuclear tests—in the Moruroa and Fangataufa atolls and beyond.
In the Northern Mariana Islands, the U.S. military is expanding with impunity its illegal plans to turn several island homelands of the Indigenous Chamorro people into bombing range sacrifice zones. So too in Guam, where the US military is building a brand new Marine Corps. base and razing an ancient limestone forest for a live-fire training range complex.
We stand in solidarity with the Kānaka Maoli and all Indigenous peoples of the Pacific in their struggle for liberation — free from the toxins, bombs, and bases of their oppressors.
Right now, our demand is simple: Shut down Red Hill. Drain the tanks. And repair what they have destroyed.
Noam Chomsky, USA
Aruna Roy, India
Cornel West, USA
Naomi Klein, Canada
Jeremy Corbyn, United Kingdom
Suzanne Coleman-Haseldine, Australia
Julian Aguon, Guam
Avi Lewis, Canada
Andres Arauz, Australia
Paola Vega, Costa Rica
Slavoj Zizek, Slovenia
John McDonnell, United Kingdom
Harsh Mander, India
Nnimmo Bassey, Nigeria
Nikhil Dey, India
Renata Ávila, Guatemala
Nick Estes, Lower Brule Sioux Tribe
Scott Ludlam, Australia
Srečko Horvat, Croatia