Senators urge Energy chief to prioritize cybersecurity amid growing threats
Bipartisan leaders of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee on Thursday urged Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm 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 Risch (R-Idaho) and Angus King (I-Maine) led almost a dozen other bipartisan members, including committee Chairman Joe Manchin (D-W.V.) and ranking member John Barrasso (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.
“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 Perry 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.
“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 Murkowski (R-Alaska), former ranking member Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.), and Sens. Ben Sasse (R-Neb.), Mike Crapo (R-Idaho), Bill Cassidy (R-La.), Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.), and Susan Collins (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.
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.
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