WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) today called for greater focus on the potential impacts of a range of threats facing the nation’s electric grid, including physical and cyber security dangers, and risks posed by an expanding list of federal environmental regulations.
“It has been apparent for some time that we may need to empower the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to protect the grid from our own federal actions,” Murkowski said. “We should never lose sight that for the electric grid, reliability and affordability must remain our core considerations. The challenge before us is how to maintain and improve reliability and affordability while keeping environmental performance in balance.”
Murkowski said ensuring that the growing number and scope of environmental rules do not negatively impact the reliability of the nation’s fleet of power plants was just as important as protecting the nation’s power system from physical and cyber attacks.
Her comments were part of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee’s hearing Thursday on the security and reliability of the electric grid. Murkowski is the panel’s top Republican. Video of the full hearing is available on the committee’s website.
Murkowski said she will request additional information from FERC officials about how critical internal documents on potential grid vulnerabilities were handled and released to the media. The Department of Energy’s inspector general yesterday confirmed the mishandling of critical energy infrastructure information and released recommendations to improve handling of sensitive documents at FERC.
“The revelation that this document should have been classified, with its national security implications, is extremely troubling,” Murkowski said. “I commend Chairwoman Cheryl LaFleur for taking swift action in response to this report to secure this classified information.”
Murkowski said recent coverage of last year’s incident at a Metcalf, Calif. power substation and the leaked FERC report have simply served to sensationalize the issue – not improve the physical security of the grid.
“Instead of helping to protect the grid from attack, the disclosures we have seen potentially increase its physical vulnerability,” Murkowski said.
Murkowski said response from federal agencies and industry to the physical threats has been appropriately swift and comprehensive.
“Regardless of how sensitive, national security information was handled at FERC or found its way to a reporter – and we’ve asked the inspector general to find out – the owners of the grid and their regulators are quick to respond to incidents such as Metcalf. Making use of the regulatory framework established by Congress in the 2005 Energy Policy Act, NERC provided needed information in a timely fashion,” Murkowski said. “A number of government agencies, including FERC, Department of Homeland Security, and the FBI, undertook significant work with industry to promote mitigation measures. And last month, under the leadership of Chair LaFleur, FERC directed NERC to develop a mandatory standard on physical security within 90 days. Even before the standard setting process was underway, lessons learned from Metcalf were being applied.”
“As experts have recognized for some time, it is likely impossible to ensure that every part of the grid could withstand physical or cyber attack. Thus we need to redouble a properly scaled and continuously improving approach to grid reliability and security,” Murkowski said. “After the facts about the universe of today’s threats are clear – or at least, clearer – we can debate whether new legislation is necessary.”
Murkowski, the top Republican on the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, recently released a white paper on grid reliability, which is available on the energy committee’s website.