House panel advances bills to guard energy grid from cyberattacks

House panel advances bills to guard energy grid from cyberattacks
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A House panel has approved a string of bills aimed at securing U.S. energy infrastructure from cyber threats following revelations of Russian cyberattacks targeting grid operators.

The four bipartisan legislative proposals aim to elevate the Department of Energy’s efforts on cyber response and engagement and to create new programs to address grid and pipeline security.

Lawmakers on a House Energy and Commerce subcommittee approved the bills Wednesday, weeks after U.S. officials disclosed that Russian hackers staged a multiyear hacking campaign against the energy grid and other critical sectors. The revelation has stirred fears about the prospect of future grid attacks. 

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“Potential for cyberattacks by foreign nations and other actors against our nation’s business and energy systems highlights one of the significant and growing threats to the reliable supply of energy in the United States,” Rep. Greg WaldenGregory (Greg) Paul WaldenLawmakers call on Trump to keep tech legal shield out of trade talks House passes anti-robocall bill Lawmakers deride FTC settlement as weak on Facebook MORE (R-Ore.), who is chairman of the full committee, said Wednesday.

Lawmakers on the Energy Subcommittee easily approved the four bills that aim to bolster the Energy Department’s cybersecurity efforts, including one that would require Energy Secretary Rick PerryJames (Rick) Richard PerryThe credible case for Texas and its clean energy solutions Oversight: Trump confidant Tom Barrack pushed for Saudi nuclear plant construction Amazon taps Trump ally to lobby amid Pentagon cloud-computing contract fight MORE to establish a program to boost physical security and cybersecurity of energy pipelines and liquefied natural gas facilities.

The other bills would elevate the leadership of the department’s emergency response and cybersecurity efforts to the assistant secretary level; establish a voluntary program to help private utilities identify and use products that are built with strong cybersecurity; and enhance public-private partnerships to ensure that electric utilities are secure. 

Walden said the bills “take practical steps to ensure that the Department of Energy can effectively carry out its emergency and security activities in the energy sector and ensure the continued safe and reliable flow of energy across the United States.” 

The bills now advance to the full House Energy and Commerce Committee for a vote before the full House can consider them.

Perry and other top Energy officials have acknowledged the breadth of cyber threats facing the energy sector. They have also insisted that the department is making cybersecurity a priority, including the establishment of a new office to address the physical security and cybersecurity of U.S. energy assets.

Still, lawmakers signaled Wednesday that the department and Congress need to do more to guard the power grid from hackers looking to stage destructive attacks.

“We have recently seen how vulnerable our society and internet are to foreign interference,” Rep. Jerry McNerneyGerlad (Jerry) Mark McNerneyHere are the 95 Democrats who voted to support impeachment Lawmakers grow impatient for FDA cannabis rules Trump’s clean power plan replacement is exactly what the coal industry needs MORE (D-Calif.), who is sponsoring two of the bills approved Wednesday, warned.

“If an outside entity were to attack our electric grid, we could go dark without electricity for months.”