House joins legislative push to combat cyber attacks

Top U.S. power regulators will advise House lawmakers this week on how to best craft legislation to protect the country's vast electric grid from physical attacks, rare geomagnetic storms and events that could wipe out large numbers of transformers.

Leaders from key federal agencies and industry groups, as well as Rep. Trent Franks (R-Ariz.), will testify before a House Energy and Commerce subcommittee today about a discussion draft the committee released on May 23.

The measure, dubbed the "GRID Act," would expand the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission's authority to protect the grid.

The draft bill mirrors legislation House Energy and Commerce Chairman Fred Upton (R-Mich.) and Rep. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) co-sponsored last Congress and aims to protect the bulk power system and defense critical electric infrastructure from cyber attacks, direct physical attacks, manmade electromagnetic pulses and geomagnetic storms.

Specifically, FERC would have cyber and physical authority over the bulk power system if the president declared an imminent threat to the grid, and the agency could conduct rulemakings to address those vulnerabilities. FERC would also have authority over distribution-level facilities that are currently outside its regulatory scope.


The commission could also direct the North American Electric Reliability Corporation to develop reliability standards to ensure the United States has a sufficient stockpile of transformers available if the equipment is damaged. The draft bill would also require the president to designate at least 100 facilities that are critical to national security.

The House subcommittee's efforts are part of a larger -- and rare -- bipartisan legislative push by Congress and the White House to craft language that would protect the grid from myriad challenges.

The federal government is seeing a larger number of cyber attacks on its own facilities and wants to safeguard infrastructure from physical attacks and hackers attempting to manipulate the system, as well as from natural disaster and other phenomena.

Most recently, the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee approved a cybersecurity measure earlier this month that would broaden FERC's authority over critical distribution networks, including generation, transmission or distribution equipment affecting interstate commerce that regulators consider vital to U.S. security and safety (E&ENews PM, May 26).

Also this month, the Obama administration sent Congress a long-awaited set of proposals to safeguard the grid. The president's proposals came in response to a request by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and six Senate committee leaders who had asked the president for input.

Notably, the White House is calling for operators of transmission lines and other critical energy infrastructure to hire third-party commercial auditors to assess their cybersecurity risk mitigation plans (E&ENews PM, May 12).

Schedule: The hearing is today at 2 p.m. in 2123 Rayburn House Office Building.

Witnesses: Rep. Trent Franks (R-Ariz.); DOE Assistant Secretary Patricia Hoffman; Joseph McClelland, director of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission's Office of Electric Reliability; Gerry Cauley, head of North American Electric Reliability Corp.; Barry Lawson, associate director of power delivery and reliability for the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association; and Franklin Kramer, former assistant secretary of defense for the U.S. Department of Defense's International Security Affairs.

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