Legislators in both parties are pushing the government to impose federal standards for safeguarding the country's power grid after a report earlier this week revealed new details of an armed attack on an electrical substation in California last year, raising fears of a possible terrorist attack.
Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., said she and other senators will ask the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to "set minimum security standards for critical substations," reports The Wall Street Journal
A Journal story on Wednesday
provided detailed information about last April's armed attack on Pacific Gas & Electric's Metcalf substation near San Jose, Calif. In that middle-of-the-night incident, intruders cut telecommunication cables near the transmission hub, crossed a horse pasture, and opened fire on the substation, which provides electricity to Silicon Valley.
Republican Rep. Trent Franks told the Journal that while "the last thing I want to do is regulate any industry," utilities have to do more to protect the grid for the sake of national security.
Lawmakers had been aware of the attack.
During an oversight hearing in December, Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Calif., described "an unprecedented and sophisticated attack on an electric grid substation with military-style weapons" but said he would withhold further details to avoid interfering with an FBI investigation, reports Fox News
Although the FERC has the clearest jurisdiction over the power grid, its hands are tied by a 2005 law requiring it to accept or reject, without changing, proposals written by the utility industry, according to the Journal.
One proposal reportedly being discussed in Congress would give the FERC power to write and impose interim rules on grid defenses, but would still allow the industry to influence any permanent requirements.
Another potential hurdle, according to some power-industry executives, is that it could be difficult to draft regulations that would work in both urban and rural areas.
"One size fits all may not get you true resiliency," Lisa Barton, executive vice president of transmission for Ohio-based American Electric Power Co., told the Journal.
Increasing protections could also be expensive, she noted, adding, "I'm not saying it isn't worth it."
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