SPONSORED:

Senators urge Energy chief to prioritize cybersecurity amid growing threats

Senators urge Energy chief to prioritize cybersecurity amid growing threats
© Getty

Bipartisan leaders of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee on Thursday urged Energy Secretary Jennifer GranholmJennifer GranholmBiden climate officials make case for infrastructure based on jobs, environment The Hill's 12:30 Report - Presented by ExxonMobil - Biden turns focus to gun violence Watch live: Energy secretary to join Psaki at White House press briefing 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 RischGOP lawmakers block Biden assistance to Palestinians Lack of cyber funds in Biden infrastructure plan raises eyebrows The Hill's Morning Report - Biden shifts on filibuster MORE (R-Idaho) and Angus KingAngus KingGroups petition EPA to remove ethane and methane from list of compounds exempt from emissions limits Lack of cyber funds in Biden infrastructure plan raises eyebrows Five things to watch on Biden infrastructure plan MORE (I-Maine) led almost a dozen other bipartisan members, including committee Chairman Joe ManchinJoe ManchinRomney blasts end of filibuster, expansion of SCOTUS Five takeaways from Biden's first budget proposal Parkland parent pressures Manchin on gun reform: 'You represent the nation' MORE (D-W.V.) and ranking member John BarrassoJohn Anthony BarrassoSunday shows preview: Democrats eye passage of infrastructure bill; health experts warn of fourth coronavirus wave Lack of cyber funds in Biden infrastructure plan raises eyebrows As Congress considers infrastructure, don't forget rural America 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.

ADVERTISEMENT

“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 PerrySenators urge Energy chief to prioritize cybersecurity amid growing threats Rachel Maddow calls into question Cornyn connection to Gupta Exclusive: GOP officials offer support for Vanita Gupta 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.

ADVERTISEMENT

“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 MurkowskiTop GOP super PAC endorses Murkowski amid primary threat Biden-GOP infrastructure talks off to rocky start Moderate GOP senators and Biden clash at start of infrastructure debate MORE (R-Alaska), former ranking member Maria CantwellMaria Elaine CantwellSenators urge Energy chief to prioritize cybersecurity amid growing threats Murkowski votes with Senate panel to advance Haaland nomination Regulators keep close eye on Facebook's deal with Australia MORE (D-Wash.), and Sens. Ben SasseBen SasseTo encourage innovation, Congress should pass two bills protecting important R&D tax provision Maine GOP rejects motion to censure Collins Senators urge Energy chief to prioritize cybersecurity amid growing threats MORE (R-Neb.), Mike CrapoMichael (Mike) Dean CrapoTrump faces test of power with early endorsements The Hill's Morning Report - Biden shifts on filibuster Senators urge Energy chief to prioritize cybersecurity amid growing threats MORE (R-Idaho), Bill CassidyBill CassidyCalls grow for national paid family leave amid pandemic Senators urge Energy chief to prioritize cybersecurity amid growing threats Vivek Murthy confirmed as surgeon general MORE (R-La.), Martin HeinrichMartin Trevor HeinrichGroups petition EPA to remove ethane and methane from list of compounds exempt from emissions limits Senators press for answers in Space Command move decision Democrats wrestle over tax hikes for infrastructure MORE (D-N.M.), and Susan CollinsSusan Margaret CollinsThe Hill's Morning Report - Biden assails 'epidemic' of gun violence amid SC, Texas shootings Biden-GOP infrastructure talks off to rocky start Moderate GOP senators and Biden clash at start of infrastructure debate 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.

ADVERTISEMENT

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.