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House Panel Looks For Ways To Protect US Electricity Grid

Sept. 16, 2011 -

At a hearing by an Energy and Commerce Committee panel, lawmakers discussed ways to modify and strengthen legislation that had passed in the House last year, but failed in the Senate. It was intended to protect electric-power supplies from vulnerabilities that leave them susceptible to attacks and natural disasters. Separating cybersecurity threats from physical and electromagnetic vulnerabilities was suggested as a way to move forward with the legislation in the Senate.

The Obama administration has also issued guidance on electric grid vulnerabilities, mainly dealing with cybersecurity, but a representative from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, Joseph McClelland, said that he didn't believe that the administration's proposals conflict with the legislation being discussed in the House.

The electricity grid legislation, known as the Grid Act, passed in the House in June 2010 with bipartisan support. There is a second piece of legislation in the House, the Shield Act, which is similar but more narrowly focused and attempts to remove issues that prevented the other bill from clearing the Senate last year.

"This legislation is as bipartisan as they come," Rep. Henry Waxman (D., Calif.) said.

Rep. Trent Franks (R., Ariz.) characterized the electrical grid as highly vulnerable and said in testimony that the Electromagnetic Pulse Commission has warned that "U.S. society and economy are so critically dependent upon the availability of electricity that a significant collapse of the grid...could result in catastrophic civilian casualties."

The Department of Defense receives 99% its electric power from the commercial industry, said Paul Stockton, of the Department of Defense. A collapse of the electric power grid caused by a natural disaster or an attack could challenge defense capabilities, he said. "I believe the power grid has very strong resilience but it's not designed to deal with the kinds of threats we're talking about today," he said.

Industry representatives from the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association and North American Electric Reliability Corporation said that they do not support the Grid Act in the current form because the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission has enough authority now to implement regulations, and other changes are best made at state and local levels.

Copyright © 2011 Dow Jones Newswires


Updated: 2003/07/28