King, Risch Bill to Protect Electric Grid Passes ENR Committee

WASHINGTON, D.C. –U.S. Senators Angus King (I-Maine) and Jim Risch (R-Idaho) today applauded the passage of their Securing Energy Infrastructure Act by the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources (ENR). The bipartisan legislation, which aims to develop solutions to defend the U.S. energy grid using a “retro” approach that could safeguard against cyber-attacks, was advanced by a voice vote.

“In recent years, we’ve withstood cyber-attacks against our government agencies and businesses, but the threat of bigger and more harmful attacks from sophisticated cyber adversaries continues to grow by the day,” said Senator King. “Despite continuing to receive warnings that grow more and more serious, so much of our vital national infrastructure remains vulnerable to devastating incursions. We cannot wait for a cyber disaster to strike before we address these weaknesses – now is the moment that we must act to shield our energy grid from a catastrophic attack.”

“There is a clear, demonstrable need to develop techniques and technologies to better secure our grid from cyber vulnerabilities,” said Senator Risch. “As we re-examine our infrastructure security, this bipartisan approach would utilize the unique assets and expertise of our National Laboratories to drive innovation. The Energy and Natural Resources Committee has taken an important step forward today and I trust the full Senate will follow suit soon.”

Senators King and Risch are members of both the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources and the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence. In addition to today’s ENR vote, text of the Securing Energy Infrastructure Act was included as part of the Intelligence Committee’s markup of the Fiscal Year 2018 Intelligence Authorization Act, which currently awaits consideration before the full Senate. The bill was inspired in part by Ukraine’s experience in 2015, when a sophisticated cyber-attack on that country’s power grid led to more than 225,000 people being left in the dark. The attack’s severity was limited by Ukraine’s use of less complex technology to operate its grid, a concept that helped inspire the bill.

The bill establishes a two-year pilot program within the National Laboratories to partner with industry and develop ways to utilize cyber-informed engineering concepts to simplify and isolate automated systems and remove vulnerabilities that could allow hackers to access the grid through holes in digital software systems.

Senator King has been a leading voice on the need for a national emphasis on cyber deterrence and has repeatedly pressed officials in both the Obama and Trump Administrations on the importance of deterrence, including in four hearings in the last two months. A report from the Secretary of Defense on options for deterring and responding to adversaries in cyberspace was mandated by a provision in the 2017 National Defense Authorization Act authored by King and Senator Mike Rounds (R-S.D.). The report was due in June 2017, but has yet to be finalized. In addition, the provision requires a report from the President identifying the types of actions carried out in cyberspace against the United States that could warrant a military response; this report is due 180 days following the initial report from the Secretary of Defense.

Senator Risch has worked to promote cybersecurity and the protection of our critical infrastructure and is a champion for the work in this area by the nation’s national lab complex, including the Idaho National Lab (INL). The INL is a world leader in critical infrastructure and control systems security research and its unique assets and expertise will help drive the innovations this legislation aims to achieve.