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Senators urge Energy chief to prioritize cybersecurity amid growing threats

Senators urge Energy chief to prioritize cybersecurity amid growing threats
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Bipartisan leaders of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee on Thursday urged Energy Secretary Jennifer GranholmJennifer GranholmOVERNIGHT ENERGY: Biden officials unveil plan to conserve 30 percent of US lands and water | Watchdog questions adequacy of EPA standards for carcinogenic chemical emissions | Interior proposing revocation of Trump-era rollback on bird protections Granholm backs wind and solar in Biden bid to decarbonize electricity The Hill's 12:30 Report - Presented by ExxonMobil - Florida's restrictive voting bill signed into law MORE to prioritize cybersecurity and maintain leadership for the agency’s key cybersecurity office in the face of growing threats to the power grid.

Committee members Sens. Jim RischJim Elroy RischAny reduction in Energy Department's cybersecurity resources a mistake Biden cancels military-funded border wall projects Senate panel greenlights sweeping China policy bill MORE (R-Idaho) and Angus KingAngus KingDC mayor admitted to Democratic governors group amid statehood fight Democrats fret over Biden spending Schumer works to balance a divided caucus's demands MORE (I-Maine) led almost a dozen other bipartisan members, including committee Chairman Joe ManchinJoe ManchinManchin touts rating as 'most bipartisan senator' Bowser on Manchin's DC statehood stance: He's 'not right' It's Joe Manchin vs the progressives on infrastructure MORE (D-W.V.) and ranking member John BarrassoJohn Anthony BarrassoRepublican seeks to use Obama energy policies to criticize Biden  EPA proposes major rule to reduce certain greenhouse gases Republicans hammer Biden on infrastructure while administration defends plan MORE (R-Wyo.) in sending a letter to Granholm stressing the importance of the Energy’s Department Office of Cybersecurity, Energy Security, and Emergency Response (CESER).

The senators asked Granholm to maintain CESER as well as its leadership by an assistant secretary in order to defend the electric grid against mounting cyber threats posing a threat to national security.

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“The reliability and resilience of the electric grid is critical to the economic and national security of the United States,” the senators wrote. “Top officials within the intelligence, defense, and power communities have warned that the United States remains vulnerable to cyberattacks that could result in catastrophic damage to public health and safety, economic security, and national security.”

CESER was established in 2018 by former Energy Secretary Rick PerryRick PerryTomorrow's special election in Texas is the Democrats' best House hope in 2021 Overnight Energy: Michigan reps reintroduce measure for national 'forever chemicals' standard |  White House says gas tax won't be part of infrastructure bill Trump alumni launch America First Policy Institute MORE under the Trump administration to further prioritize energy infrastructure security.

The senators on Thursday emphasized that threats in cyberspace have only grown since the establishment of the office, and that securing the grid was a bipartisan imperative.

“Recent news reports have illustrated that our adversaries are actively seeking to exploit holes in U.S. internet networks and control systems, which leaves our electric grid and other critical infrastructure vulnerable to foreign surveillance and potential disruption,” the senators wrote.

The letter was sent a week after the Government Accountability Office released a report finding that the nation’s grid distribution systems were “increasingly at risk from cyberattacks,” and recommending that the Department of Energy (DOE) ensure its plans for these systems include prioritizing cybersecurity.

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“It is imperative that the Department does not march backwards on its responsibilities to the energy sector and the protection of our critical infrastructure given the persistent, growing, and significant threat cyberattacks pose to our nation’s economy and national security,” the senators wrote Thursday.

Other lawmakers who signed on to the letter included former committee Chairwoman Lisa MurkowskiLisa Ann MurkowskiPollster Frank Luntz: 'I would bet on' Trump being 2024 GOP nominee Trump muddles Republican messaging on Afghanistan Trump drama divides GOP, muddling message MORE (R-Alaska), former ranking member Maria CantwellMaria Elaine CantwellWill Biden's NASA win the space race with China? Bill Nelson is a born-again supporter of commercial space at NASA Biden looks to bolster long-term research and development MORE (D-Wash.), and Sens. Ben SasseBen SasseTim Scott sparks buzz in crowded field of White House hopefuls NYT's Stephens says Ted Cruz more 'unctuous' than Eddie Haskell GOP worries fiscal conservatism losing its rallying cry MORE (R-Neb.), Mike CrapoMichael (Mike) Dean CrapoBottom line Senate GOP crafts outlines for infrastructure counter proposal Left-leaning group: SALT cap repeal would worsen racial income disparities MORE (R-Idaho), Bill CassidyBill CassidyThe Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Emergent BioSolutions - Biden sales pitch heads to Virginia and Louisiana Republicans hammer Biden on infrastructure while administration defends plan Sunday shows - Biden economic agenda dominates MORE (R-La.), Martin HeinrichMartin Trevor HeinrichSenate votes to nix Trump rule limiting methane regulation Senate Democrats push Biden over raising refugee cap Democrats battle over best path for Puerto Rico MORE (D-N.M.), and Susan CollinsSusan Margaret CollinsCheney drama exposes GOP's Trump rifts House to advance appropriations bills in June, July Manchin touts rating as 'most bipartisan senator' MORE (R-Maine).

A spokesperson for DOE told The Hill when asked to comment on the letter that the agency has not made changes to the CESER leadership position. 

Granholm told E&E News during an interview earlier this month that CESER “will continue to run” and that it is staffed appropriately to defend the grid. 

She also briefly discussed the importance of cybersecurity during her nomination hearing before the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee earlier this year, citing the recent Russian SolarWinds hack as an example of the need for a heightened focus on cybersecurity.

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The Energy Department was among the nine federal agencies compromised in the hack. 

“I haven’t been fully briefed on the national security and the confidential aspects of the SolarWinds cyber hack, but clearly that is one example, and we are getting hacked all the time and attacked all of the time,” Granholm testified in January. “We will have inside the DOE a person at a very high level that is responsible for making sure that the response to this is coordinated. We have to harden our electric grid for protection of our energy system.”

-Updated at 8:55 p.m.