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 GranholmFederal watchdog calls on Congress, Energy Dept. to overhaul nuclear waste storage process Energy Department's loan program helped Tesla; now it needs to help low-income communities Biden administration launches new effort to help communities with energy transition 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 RischAides try to keep Biden away from unscripted events or long interviews, book claims Lobbying world Senate lawmakers let frustration show with Blinken MORE (R-Idaho) and Angus KingAngus KingOvernight Energy & Environment — League of Conservation Voters — Climate summit chief says US needs to 'show progress' on environment Manchin, Barrasso announce bill to revegetate forests after devastating fires Rep. Tim Ryan becomes latest COVID-19 breakthrough case in Congress MORE (I-Maine) led almost a dozen other bipartisan members, including committee Chairman Joe ManchinJoe ManchinOvernight Energy & Environment — League of Conservation Voters — Climate summit chief says US needs to 'show progress' on environment Poll from liberal group shows more voters in key states back .5T bill Why Democrats opposing Biden's tax plan have it wrong MORE (D-W.V.) and ranking member John BarrassoJohn Anthony BarrassoOvernight Energy & Environment — League of Conservation Voters — Climate summit chief says US needs to 'show progress' on environment Manchin, Barrasso announce bill to revegetate forests after devastating fires Overnight Energy & Environment — Presented by the League of Conservation Voters — EPA finalizing rule cutting HFCs 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 PerryRepublicans are the 21st-century Know-Nothing Party College football move rocks Texas legislature Trump tries to spin failed Texas endorsement: 'This was a win' 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 MurkowskiGOP warns McConnell won't blink on debt cliff Graham tries to help Trump and McConnell bury the hatchet Trump, allies launch onslaught as midterms kick into gear MORE (R-Alaska), former ranking member Maria CantwellMaria Elaine CantwellLooking to the past to secure America's clean energy future Democrats demand more action from feds on unruly airline passengers Delta variant's spread hampers Labor Day air travel, industry recovery MORE (D-Wash.), and Sens. Ben SasseBen SassePresident of newly recognized union for adult performers boosts membership Romney blasts Biden over those left in Afghanistan: 'Bring them home' Progressives breathe sigh of relief after Afghan withdrawal MORE (R-Neb.), Mike CrapoMichael (Mike) Dean CrapoThe Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Alibaba - Biden jumps into frenzied Dem spending talks GOP senators say Biden COVID-19 strategy has 'exacerbated vaccine hesitancy' The Energy Sector Innovation Credit Act is an industry game-changer MORE (R-Idaho), Bill CassidyBill CassidyGOP warns McConnell won't blink on debt cliff House passes bill to prevent shutdown and suspend debt limit Louisiana delegation split over debt hike bill with disaster aid MORE (R-La.), Martin HeinrichMartin Trevor HeinrichOvernight Equilibrium/Sustainability — Presented by Schneider Electric — Deadly Ida floodwaters grip southeast US David Sirota: Seven Democrats who voted against fracking ban trying to secure future elections Deadly extreme heat has arrived: here's how policymakers can save lives MORE (D-N.M.), and Susan CollinsSusan Margaret CollinsLooking to the past to secure America's clean energy future Collins to endorse LePage in Maine governor comeback bid McConnell privately urged GOP senators to oppose debt ceiling hike 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.

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.