Lawmakers Push to Protect Electric Grid from Cyberattacks

WASHINGTON - SEPTEMBER 9: U.S. Representative Fred Upton (R-MI) speaks as he introduces Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Chairman Michael Powell during a luncheon September 9, 2003 at the Capitol Hill Club in Washington, DC. Powell talked about the state of regulation or de-regulation in the telecommunications industry. 
National Journal
Clare Foran
Dec. 5, 2013, 7:56 a.m.

Law­makers from both parties voiced con­cerns at a House hear­ing Thursday that prop­er safe­guards are not in place to de­fend the elec­tric grid against cy­ber at­tacks.

“It is clear that the elec­tric grid is not ad­equately pro­tec­ted from phys­ic­al or cy­ber at­tacks,” said House En­ergy and Com­merce rank­ing mem­ber Rep. Henry Wax­man, D-Cal­if., at an En­ergy and Power Sub­com­mit­tee hear­ing to ex­am­ine the role of the Fed­er­al En­ergy Reg­u­lat­ory Com­mis­sion in ap­prov­ing en­ergy in­fra­struc­ture and main­tain­ing en­ergy se­cur­ity.

Wax­man called for the pas­sage of le­gis­la­tion to strengthen FERC’s abil­ity to pro­tect and main­tain the grid.

“FERC lacks au­thor­ity to dir­ectly ad­dress these threats and vul­ner­ab­il­it­ies, [and] Con­gress needs to fix this gap in reg­u­lat­ory au­thor­ity.”

Also at the hear­ing, House Re­pub­lic­ans con­tin­ued to paint them­selves as cham­pi­ons of the do­mest­ic en­ergy boom, while at the same time char­ging the ad­min­is­tra­tion with stand­ing in the way of in­creased pro­duc­tion.

“Long-held be­liefs of Amer­ic­an en­ergy scarcity have giv­en way to a new era of en­ergy abund­ance, es­pe­cially in re­gards to oil and nat­ur­al gas. But many policies and at­ti­tudes are still rooted in the out­dated as­sump­tions of short­ages and rising im­ports, with the po­ten­tial to ob­struct the op­por­tun­it­ies be­fore us,” com­men­ted Com­mit­tee Chair­man Rep. Fred Up­ton, R-Mich.

Act­ing FERC Chair­man Cheryl LaFleur, along with three com­mis­sion­ers, were asked to testi­fy at the hear­ing.

There was also bi­par­tis­an in­terest among pan­el mem­bers as to wheth­er the com­mis­sion­ers would sup­port le­gis­la­tion to speed ap­prov­al of en­ergy in­fra­struc­ture pro­jects such as li­que­fied-nat­ur­al gas ex­port fa­cil­it­ies and nat­ur­al gas pipelines. Re­pub­lic­an law­makers ven­tured out on their own, however, in claim­ing that fed­er­al reg­u­lat­ors have so far worked mainly to de­ter timely in­fra­struc­ture ap­prov­al.

“We’ve got to build this ar­chi­tec­ture of abund­ance quickly giv­en that Amer­ica’s oil and gas out­put has been rising every year and is strain­ing the ex­ist­ing in­fra­struc­ture. But nearly every new pro­ject is met with stiff res­ist­ance at every step of the pro­cess,” Up­ton com­men­ted, say­ing that the “ar­cha­ic fed­er­al reg­u­lat­ory pro­cess can be ma­nip­u­lated to cause years of delays for pipelines, power­line, LNG ex­port pro­jects, and in some cases can block them out­right.”

Com­mis­sion­ers warned, however, that im­pos­ing timelines for ap­prov­al of en­ergy in­fra­struc­ture pro­jects could sab­ot­age ef­forts to in­crease oil and nat­ur­al gas out­put.

“You also have to be care­ful that as I test­i­fied be­fore this com­mit­tee earli­er that you don’t force a timeline that res­ults in a no be­cause they’ll say they don’t have enough time to ana­lyze the pro­ject,” Philip Moeller, one of the com­mis­sion­ers in­volved in the hear­ing com­men­ted.

The hear­ing comes on the heels of a ma­jor push by House con­ser­vat­ives pri­or to the Thanks­giv­ing hol­i­day to pass a series of en­ergy policy acts aimed at ex­pand­ing oil and nat­ur­al gas pro­duc­tion, in­clud­ing a bill by Rep. Mike Pom­peo, R-Kan., which would set an up­per lim­it of 12 months for FERC to ap­prove or deny nat­ur­al gas pipelines.

The Sen­ate is not ex­pec­ted to take up the le­gis­la­tion and the White House has threatened to veto the bill.

Nev­er­the­less, Up­ton in­dic­ated that con­ser­vat­ives aren’t plan­ning to give up the fight over en­ergy policy any­time soon, say­ing that he ex­pects that the House will soon con­sider a bill he in­tro­duced, along with Rep. Gene Green, D-Texas, to speed ap­prov­al of cross-bor­der oil and nat­ur­al gas pipelines as well as elec­tric trans­mis­sion lines.

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