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 WaldenOvernight Energy: Green groups to sue over Trump rollback of Obama water rules | GOP climate plan faces pushback from right | Bezos launches B climate initiative GOP climate plan faces pushback — from Republicans Coalition plan seeks to cut carbon emissions in half by 2035 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 PerryRick PerryTop National Security Council aide moved to Energy Department role Overnight Energy: Green groups to sue over Trump rollback of Obama water rules | GOP climate plan faces pushback from right | Bezos launches B climate initiative Rick Perry to rejoin dental insurance company as chief strategy officer 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 McNerneyHillicon Valley: US hits Huawei with new charges | Judge orders Pentagon to halt 'war cloud' work amid Amazon challenge | IRS removes guidance on Fortnite game currency Democrats criticize FCC for not taking action against DC station broadcasting Russian disinformation Democrats demand FCC act over leak of phone location data 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.”