Senators want FERC to protect critical infrastructure from Huawei threats

Senators want FERC to protect critical infrastructure from Huawei threats
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A group of senators is preparing to call on the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) to combat threats posed by using technology from Chinese telecommunications giant Huawei.

"As you know, the Intelligence Community has issued repeated warnings to regulators and political leaders about the dangers associated with using Huawei equipment on the nation’s telecommunications network," according to a draft letter to FERC chair Neil ChatterjeeIndranil (Neil) ChatterjeeOVERNIGHT ENERGY: Government predicts busy hurricane season | Report: BLM says oil and gas operators should set their own royalty rates for public lands drilling | Michigan flooding risks damage to hazardous waste sites: report Michigan dam that failed had its license revoked over safety issues in 2018: report Overnight Energy: Biden campaign says he would revoke Keystone XL permit | EPA emails reveal talks between Trump officials, chemical group before 2017 settlement | Tensions emerge on Natural Resources panel over virtual meetings MORE, who oversees the country's electrical grid.

"Congress and the Trump Administration have taken steps to eliminate Huawei products from national security sensitive applications, citing concerns with the company’s links to the Chinese Communist party, including its intelligence services," the letter continues.

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While it's known for manufacturing cellphones, Huawei also develops solar panel and energy storage technology.

Huawei said in June that it would exit the U.S. solar market, but Sen. Angus KingAngus KingMemorial Day weekend deals latest economic blow to travel industry Bipartisan senators introduce bill to make changes to the Paycheck Protection Program Senators weigh traveling amid coronavirus ahead of Memorial Day MORE (I-Maine) and a handful of GOP senators are skeptical.

"While Huawei announced earlier this year that it intended to exit the U.S. solar market, there are no guarantees," the senators wrote in the draft letter.

"Huawei’s line of solar products relies on inverters – devices that manage and convert energy produced by solar panels – for use in homes and businesses," they added. "Huawei-produced inverters connected to the U.S. energy grid could leave it vulnerable to foreign surveillance and interference, and could potentially give Beijing access to meddle with portions of America’s electricity supply."

The lawmakers intend to request the administration ban Huawei's entry into the inverter market and request that FERC work with relevant agencies to guard against potential vulnerabilities.

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"In the meantime, we urge FERC and its new cybersecurity division to work closely with the Department of Homeland Security, the Department of Energy and its National Laboratories, industry, utilities, and other federal, state and local regulators to curb threats and protect critical infrastructure," they wrote.

Experts have increasingly raised concerns about cyberattacks on the energy grid as offensive cyber capabilities have become more sophisticated while defenses have lagged.

Two bills on the issue have been advanced to the Senate floor this year: the Enhancing Grid Security Through Public-Private Partnerships Act and the Energy Cybersecurity Act.

The first, sponsored by Sens. Cory GardnerCory Scott GardnerThe Hill's Campaign Report: Minneapolis protests rock the nation McConnell: Next coronavirus bill will be final COVID-19 package Democrats gear up to hit GOP senators on DACA MORE (R-Colo.) and Michael BennetMichael Farrand BennetWarren condemns 'horrific' Trump tweet on Minneapolis protests, other senators chime in Senate Democrat introduces bill to protect food supply Congress headed toward unemployment showdown MORE (D-Colo.), would require the Department of Energy to establish and carry out a program to assess the cyber and physical security of electric utilities.

The second, sponsored by Sens. Maria CantwellMaria Elaine CantwellDemocratic unity starts to crack in coronavirus liability reform fight Trump nominee for Consumer Product Safety Commission involved in CDC guidance shelving: AP Senate votes to reauthorize intel programs with added legal protections MORE (D-Wash.) and Martin HeinrichMartin Trevor HeinrichThe Hill's Coronavirus Report: Mastercard CEO Ajay Banga says supporting small business single most important thing we should do now; Teva's Brendan O'Grady says U.S. should stockpile strategic reserve in drugs like Strategic Oil Reserve Senate votes to reauthorize intel programs with added legal protections Bottom line MORE (D-N.M.), would require the Energy Department to “develop advanced cybersecurity applications and technologies for the energy sector.”

Updated on Thursday at 2:46 p.m.