WA Sen. Cantwell slams Speaker Ryan over grid cybersecurity in energy bill talks

Dive Brief:

  • U.S. Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-WA), the ranking member on the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources, criticized House Speaker Paul Ryan for not better educating his caucus on electric grid cybersecurity issues before entering a conference committee to finalize a sweeping energy proposal last year. 
  • Cantwell blamed opposition from House lawmakers over cybersecurity provisions in the Senate version of the bill for stalling the conference committee in December, saying the Speaker needs to "wake up and recognize the threats on cybersecurity and get serious about getting a bill."
  • The comments came as the chambers prepare for a new round of energy negotiations. Politico reported this morning that passing a broad energy bill will be a top priority for Energy Committee Chair Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) this year, and Cantwell said she would continue work toward a bill that contained enhanced security provisions.

Dive Insight:​

Cantwell's comments came at the launch event for the Department of Energy's second Quadrennial Energy Review, a report card on the nation's electricity system that among its recommendations urges lawmakers to strengthen federal authority on grid cybersecurity. 

Cantwell said the bill she and Murkowski shepherded through the Senate included many of the DOE's recommendations, which were met with broad bipartisan support by the upper chamber. The bill, the Energy Policy Modernization Act of 2016, passed the Senate 85-12 in April. 

That consensus did not extend to the House, however, and the conference committee was disbanded in December. Cantwell pointed to cybersecurity issues as one big sticking point.

"It was ludicrous to go into conference negotiations and have to convince our House colleagues that cybersecurity was not somehow a Democratic proposal," she said. "I mean they didn't even have it in their House response and when we got into door-to-door confrontation with them, they didn't want to do it, and we were like 'what do you not get about cybersecurity?'"

The House bill passed 249-174 in a largely party-line vote in December. Though its main sponsor was Rep. Fred Upton (R-MI), Cantwell laid the responsibility for the stalled negotiations squarely at the feet of the Speaker. 

"I think the fault here lies with Speaker Ryan for failing to understand the amount of consensus that had been achieved thus far and not to take up the golden opportunity," she said. The Speaker's office could not be reached for comment. 

Cantwell said she did not know if the same type of Senate consensus could emerge in the new Congress, but it appears she and Murkowski will try again for a bill. The Alaska senator told Politico this morning that despite her frustration with negotiations so far, her committee would try to move new initiatives this year. 

At the event, Secretary of Energy Ernest Moniz highlighted the cybersecurity recommendations in the QER, saying that the convergence of the power grid with the digital economy is "the big story" in the electricity sector today.

Among the report's 76 suggestions to lawmakers were calls for Congress to enhance the cybersecurity authorities of federal agencies. Lawmakers should amend the Federal Power Act to allow the Department of Energy to issue emergency orders to protect the grid from cyberattacks, the review said, and FERC should be given the authority to update NERC reliability standards. 

The second version of the QER can be downloaded here

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Filed Under: Regulation & Policy Technology
Top image credit: National Park Service