Bill would give feds new power to protect electric grid

Democrats in the House and Senate introduced identical bills Wednesday that would give the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) new authority to address emergencies and vulnerabilities in the country’s electric grid.

The Grid Reliability and Infrastructure Defense (GRID) Act would allow FERC to issue emergency orders to protect the electricity infrastructure from threats, said Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) and Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.), the bill’s sponsors. FERC would also attain regulatory power to protect against grid vulnerabilities.

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“Unless we act now, the United States will continue to remain vulnerable to the 21st century cyber armies preparing to wage war on our banking, health care, and defense systems by knocking out America’s electricity grid,” Markey said in statement. “The GRID Act will help secure our nation’s electrical grid against devastating damage from physical or cyber terrorist attacks or from natural disasters.”

Markey previously sponsored the GRID Act in 2010 when he was in the House. It passed there, but not in the Senate.

“We will remain vulnerable to attacks that could cause devastating blackouts until security is increased and regulatory gaps are closed,” Waxman said. “The GRID Act provides regulators the authority they need to ensure that the grid is adequately protected.”

The bill’s provisions, and the rules FERC would be authorized to establish, are designed to protect against “physical, cyber, electromagnetic pulse and other threats” to the electric grid.

Electric utilities opposed the GRID Act the last time it was proposed. The National Rural Electric Cooperative Association said the bill would give FERC too much power over utilities.