Markey urges Upton to pass GRID Act

Markey also noted that Defense Secretary Leon Panetta and the Department of Homeland Security have sounded alarm about the havoc a cyberattack could wreak on the nation's critical infrastructure.

"As the widespread and, in some cases, still ongoing power outages from Superstorm Sandy have shown us, our electric grid is too fragile and its disruption is too devastating for us to fail to act," Markey wrote. "Given this urgency, it is critical that the House act immediately in a bipartisan manner to ensure our electrical infrastructure is secure."

The two lawmakers co-authored the GRID Act, which was introduced last Congress and passed the House by a voice-vote. It didn't see any action in the Senate, however.

The bill would give the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) the authority to issue orders and regulations aimed at beefing up the security of the electric grid's computer systems from a cyberattack. Markey said all five FERC commissioners affirmed to him that "they felt they needed the authority our bill provides in order to better secure the grid."

He noted that while the North American Electric Reliability Corporation has proposed measures that "could prevent Stuxnet-based attacks and other cyber threats on electrical grid systems," they are voluntary-only and have not been widely adopted by electric companies.

Congress has struggled to pass cybersecurity legislation this year. The House passed a package of cybersecurity legislation this spring, including a bill aimed at improving information-sharing about cyber threats between government and industry. The White House threatened to veto the bill, the Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act, because it did not include measures that would encourage critical infrastructure operators to address the security gaps in the computer systems.

A sweeping cybersecurity bill authored by Sens. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.), Susan Collins (R-Maine) and a group of Senate Democrats was defeated in Senate for a second time last week. After the bill failed to clear that key procedural vote, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid declared that "cybersecurity is dead for this Congress."