Cantwell Wants to Give Energy Department More Cyber Authority

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By Rebecca Kern

Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.) said she plans to introduce legislation to give the Energy Department more authority to oversee the resiliency of the nation’s electric grid in the case of physical and cyber attacks.

Expanding the Energy Department’s grid authority is a top-line recommendation in the second installment of the agency’s Quadrennial Energy Review issued Jan. 6, which provides 76 legislative and policy recommendations for Congress and the next administration. The report focuses on how to address security risks of the nation’s electricity sector—from generation through transmission and distribution.

“Cybersecurity is an unfulfilled action item here and one that I think is growing in importance,” Cantwell, the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee’s ranking member, said at a Jan. 6 event on Capitol Hill introducing the report.

“I certainly plan to introduce legislation on the implementation of these recommendations, making sure the authority of DOE is clear, and has more structure moving forward,” she said.

Another avenue for some of the report’s recommendations on electricity infrastructure might be a broader infrastructure bill if one is introduced, she said. President-elect Donald Trump has indicated he is interested in infrastructure investment.

“I definitely think the recommendations have legs as an infrastructure issue,” Cantwell said.

Rep. Frank Pallone (D-N.J.), ranking member of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, said in a Jan. 6 statement that the recommendations were “a valuable tool for our Committee, not only as we continue our hearings on the Federal Power Act but also as we look into new and more severe vulnerabilities to cyberattacks by Russia and other rogue nations.”

Bipartisan Nature

Dan Utech, deputy assistant to the president for energy and climate change, expressed optimism that the next administration would take up some of the recommendations, saying, “I think the goals and objectives that this report is pointed towards are bipartisan in nature.”

“We urge the incoming team to take a close look at it, and for Congress to take a close look at it, when appropriate, and to move forward with them,” Utech said on a Jan. 6 Energy Department teleconference.

“Even at a time about considerable disagreement on the Hill about many issues, Congress took up a bunch of recommendations from the first QER,” he said.

Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz said at the Capitol Hill event that he hopes for bipartisan support in Congress to implement the latest recommendations.

The first installment of the review, issued in April 2015, provided 63 recommendations focused on energy infrastructure, of which 21 were fully or partially enacted into law and 29 were fully implemented by the Obama administration. The concept of the quadrennial energy review originated as part of the Obama administration’s June 2013 Climate Action Plan to provide a multiyear plan for U.S. energy policy.

Cyber Recommendations

A major recommendation from the report calls on Congress to amend the Federal Power Act to specifically give the Energy Department authority to prepare responses to a grid-security crisis such as a cyber or physical attack, solar storm, or a rare—but devastating—electromagnetic pulse event, which can be naturally occurring like a lightning storm or man-made, from a nuclear explosion.

The report also calls for collecting confidential information about cyber threats to the grid to notify the president. Furthermore, it advises increasing federal spending on research, development and demonstration for clean electricity.

Separately, the report called for extending tax credits to boost construction of new nuclear reactors. The Nuclear Energy Institute, which represents the nuclear industry, said this recommendation “recognizes the clear need for nuclear energy to remain an essential part of our nation’s industrial and electrical infrastructure.”

Overall, the report said, total investment requirements necessary for grid modernization range from $350 billion to $500 billion.

Need More House Support

Cantwell said she is open to integrating recommendations from the quadrennial energy review in a broad energy bill this Congress, after it failed to pass the finish line last year.

She blamed House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) and other House Republicans for not moving on the energy bill last Congress.

Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), chairman of the Energy and Natural Resources Committee, has said that she is interested in restarting work on a broad energy bill. However, her office didn’t respond by deadline on the cybersecurity recommendations in the report.

To contact the reporter on this story: Rebecca Kern in Washington, D.C., at rkern@bna.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Larry Pearl at lpearl@bna.com

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