The military’s response to the water contamination crisis caused by Navy fuel storage in Hawaii is poised to get a $350 million boost after Congress cleared a stopgap spending measure containing the funding.
In addition to providing funding to respond to the Red Hill Bulk Fuel Storage Facility spill, the continuing resolution, or CR, keeps the government open through March 11, giving lawmakers three weeks to reach a deal on funding for the rest of the fiscal year and averting a shutdown that would have started at midnight Saturday.
The Senate approved the CR on Thursday night in a 65-27 vote. The bill was previously approved by the House, meaning it now goes to the desk of President Joe Biden, who is expected to sign it before government funding runs out at the end of the day Friday.
Usually, CRs just extend existing funding plans and prevent government agencies from starting any new programs. But lawmakers can include so-called "anomalies" that provide new funding.
Among the anomalies in this CR, the Navy, Marine Corps, Army and Air Force will get $250 million to cover expenses related to the Hawaii water contamination.
The CR also gives $100 million to the Defense Department to comply with a Hawaiian order to drain the fuel tanks at Red Hill, an order the department is currently fighting in court.
Navy officials said in January that cleanup costs associated with the spill had already exceeded $250 million. Sen. Brian Schatz, D-Hawaii, has described the CR as a first round of possible funding to defuel Red Hill and vowed to push for more in future spending bills.
Military families at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam and Aliamanu Military Reservation started reporting in late November that their water smelled like fuel and had a visible, oily sheen.
The Hawaii Department of Health and the Navy later confirmed that fuel had spilled from the Red Hill storage facility earlier in the month and contaminated a well and shaft below the property.
Thousands of military families and civilians have been displaced because of the spill, while others are bringing in outside water to stay in their homes. Thousands have also been treated for nausea, headaches, rashes and other conditions.
Earlier this week, the Hawaii Department of Health declared one neighborhood’s water is now safe to drink, but 18 other neighborhoods remain under an advisory not to drink their water.
Defense officials have promised to fix the situation, but are currently locked in a battle with Hawaii over the state's order to drain the fuel stored at Red Hill.
Another anomaly in the bill is $1.6 billion to prevent delays in the Columbia-class submarine program, which the Navy had warned was possible if it was forced to live under a full-year CR.
Defense officials had fretted this could be the first year Congress funds the government with a CR for the entire year, which they warned could wreak havoc on training, permanent change of station orders, recruitment goals, bonuses and more.
But lawmakers in recent weeks have expressed optimism they will reach a deal on regular government funding for fiscal year 2022 by the new March 11 deadline, which will be nearly six months after the fiscal year started.
The top Democratic and Republican appropriators in the House and Senate last week announced they had agreed on a “framework” for a government funding package and are now working to fill in the details before March 11. Lawmakers have been tight-lipped about what specifically is in the framework, including how much would go toward defense funding.
-- Rebecca Kheel can be reached at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter @reporterkheel.