WASHINGTON — Congress has included key provisions in its annual defense policy bill for 2023 that will ensure that the U.S. Navy continues efforts to drain and decommission its bulk fuel storage tanks at Red Hill.

The National Defense Authorization Act sets the policy priorities for the U.S. military each year and is one of the rare pieces of legislation that almost always gets approved despite partisan divisions.

Congress has yet to vote on the legislation, but it is expected to pass before the end of the session.

Congress is poised to pass the National Defense Authorization Act, which includes provisions to shut down Red Hill. Nick Grube/Civil Beat/2022

One of the biggest sticking points in this year’s bill — which sets defense spending at $858 billion — has been the Pentagon’s vaccine mandate for troops, something that Republicans were successful in getting rescinded in the legislation.

For Hawaii, the provisions regarding Red Hill are among the most noteworthy. The WWII era fuel tanks sickened thousands after a major leak into Oahu’s aquifer in late 2021.

The NDAA authorizes closure of the tanks as well as a study to determine what will happen with the underground facility once the fuel has been removed. The legislation also calls on the Defense Department to brief Congress on its efforts to track the health impacts resulting from the fuel spill.

It’s common for lawmakers to use NDAA as a vehicle to pass other pieces of non-defense legislation, and this year is no different.

U.S. Sen. Brian Schatz pointed to three separate measures included in the bill that will increase funding for coral reef restoration, ban the sale of shark fins throughout the U.S. and improve the country’s volcanic warning system.

“As we all know in Hawai‘i, volcanic eruptions can be a real danger, so improving our warning systems can make a difference in keeping people safe,” Schatz said in a press release. “Our bipartisan bill is a common-sense step to make sure the agencies tracking volcanoes have all available data to respond to threats on land, in the sea, and in the sky, and better protect families in our state.”

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