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ICYMI: Keeping America's Grid Safe

By Fred Upton

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Washington, February 2, 2016 | comments

The world we live in today is rapidly changing, highly interconnected, and uniquely threatened in ways not thought possible when our electric grid first came online. When it comes to keeping our country safe, nothing is more under-the-radar yet crucial to the nation’s well-being than our electric grid infrastructure. Everything from cyber-attacks to electromagnetic pulse waves, severe weather to seismic events has the potential to shut down or disrupt parts of the grid. The results of these disruptions or shut downs would have far-reaching economic and public health impacts.

Take for example the recent cyber attack that occurred on an energy company in the Ukraine. Over 700,000 households were affected by a blackout that lasted for several hours. Although still under investigation, it is widely suspected that a well-engineered malware referred to as ‘BlackEnergy’ was the source of the blackout and the Ukrainian government has publicly pinned the attack on Russia. Malicious events like these reinforce that we can, and should, do more to modernize and strengthen our grid security here at home. 

Policymakers at the state, local, and federal levels of government must consider policies that account for these evolving 21st century threats. The Energy and Commerce Committee has already taken the lead in proposing and implementing solutions to these security challenges. As part of this year’s landmark, bipartisan highway legislation, grid security and reliability legislation championed by members of the committee were included in the final version of the bill, which was signed into law by the president on December 4, 2015. 

The first bill, H.R. 2271, the Critical Electric Infrastructure Protection Act, introduced by Reps. Bob Latta (R-OH), Renee Ellmers (R-NC), and Jerry McNerney (D-CA) protects our critical electric infrastructure. This legislation, for the first time, provides the Secretary of Energy authority to take emergency measures to address imminent threats and emergencies facing the grid. The provision also significantly improves the protection and voluntary sharing of critical electric infrastructure information between the private sector and federal government, which will improve coordination and allow for earlier detection of threats and better response and mitigation times.

The second bill, H.R. 2244, introduced by Reps Ellmers and McNerney, directs the Department of Energy to submit a plan to Congress outlining the feasibility of establishing a Strategic Transformer Reserve to increase our emergency preparedness capabilities. A Strategic Transformer Reserve would store spare large power transformers and mobile substations in strategically located facilities around the country to temporarily replace damaged power transformers and substations. 

The third bill, H.R. 1558, the Resolving Environmental and Grid Reliability Conflicts Act of 2015, championed by Reps. Pete Olson (R-TX), Gene Green (D-TX), and Mike Doyle (D-PA), was also included in the highway bill. Power generators often are forced to choose between violating a Department of Energy emergency order to provide power or violating the terms of their environmental operating permit. This provision provides certainty to electric utilities and protects grid reliability across the country by resolving this conflict.

Taken together, this package of bills represents a step forward for how our country deals with electric grid safety and security. Though there’s still more work to be done. 

This year, I will continue to work in a bipartisan manner to advance meaningful reforms to keep our electric grid safe and secure. Nothing quite disrupts the daily routine of Americans like a power outage. Reliable electricity is an unseen luxury that many folks take for granted, until the lights go dark. Oftentimes Mother Nature is the culprit, but folks who want to cause America harm have eyed extended outages. If state sponsored or rogue hackers were successful in disabling the grid, shutting down power for weeks or months. We will continue taking necessary steps to fortify the electric grid to ensure disaster does not strike.

Read the article online via Real Clear Energy here.
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