(Or, Why Don’t “They” Fix Grid Security?)
I am usually asked the same question when I do presentations. When made aware of the various threats to the electric grid—cyberattack, physical attack, geomagnetic disturbance (GMD), electromagnetic pulse (EMP), vegetation management, extreme weather, pandemic, etc.—people invariably ask: “why don’t they fix it?”
Indeed, “they” have known for decades that the electric grid is vulnerable to a variety of threats. In fact, there have been decades of Congressional hearings and federal reports on the known threats to the grid.
So why don’t “they” fix it? Excellent question. First of all, let’s define “they.” There are a few of “them.”
- “They” could mean the regulators
- “They” could mean Congress
- “They” could mean the electric utility industry
Recently I discussed the first “they”—the regulators. Today I’m going to talk about the second “they”—Congress, and the third “they”—the electric utility industry. So why can’t Congress fix grid security? Congress actually can fix grid security with legislation. They haven’t. So, as it turns out, the more appropriate question is why won’t Congress fix grid security?
The electric utility industry spent $107 million in lobbying and political contributions in 2020.
The electric utility industry is partially self-regulated. The industry has armies of lawyers and lobbyists intent on keeping things that way and keeping “burdensome” regulations at bay. (Grid security is apparently “unduly burdensome” and “unnecessary”.) We know that the industry has fought against increased cybersecurity standards and has fought against transparency in regulation. In fact, industry lobbying groups including the Edison Electric Institute (whose members include the government of the People’s Republic of China) have fought vigorously against my Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests!
The electric utility industry also feely throws money and influence to the two key Congressional committees that have interest in the security of the electric grid: The U.S. Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources and the House Energy and Commerce Committee. So what could be the possible stumbling blocks to these two congressional bodies introducing strong legislation to protect the grid?
The U.S. Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources took the money.
In the 116th Congress (2020 cycle), members of the U.S. Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources got $1,958,422 in “contributions” from the electric utility industry. Members of this key oversight committee received an average of $97,921 in “contributions.” (Information courtesy of the Center for Responsive Politics.)
- Committee Chairperson Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) got $452,062.
- Committee Ranking Member Joe Manchin (D-WVa) got $129,002.
The House Energy and Commerce Committee took the money.
In the 116th Congress (2020 cycle), members of the House Energy and Commerce Committee got $443,100 in “contributions” from the electric utility industry. Members of this key oversight committee received an average of $8,205 in “contributions.” (Information courtesy of the Center for Responsive Politics.)
- Committee Chairperson Frank Pallone Jr. (D-NJ) got $6,500.
- Committee Ranking Member Greg Walden (R-Ore) got $47,000.
It seems money talks, grid security walks.
In total, the electric utility industry spent $26,080,736 in political contributions and spent $81,656,694 on lobbying in 2020. That is a total of over $107 million reasons why “they” (Congress) finds it difficult to pass grid security legislation which their benefactor (the electric utility industry) opposes.
And here’s the true irony: Where does all this money come from to fight against grid security? Your electric bill. Think about that!
So, if you want to see who from these key congressional oversight committees took the money, here they are along with how much the electric utility industry “contributed” to them in 2020. Meanwhile, the electric grid remained unsecure.
You may draw your own conclusions on “why don’t they fix grid security.”
Footnote (message to Congress): Perhaps it is not illegal to take money from an industry so tied to your oversight responsibilities. But the optics here are horrible. There is a string of dead grid security bills over the last decade. And if a catastrophic blackout happens, they will be joined by thousands (or millions) of dead Americans.
Who Took The Money in 2020?
|Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn)||$5,500|
|John A Barrasso (R-Wyo)||$270,400|
|Maria Cantwell (D-Wash)||$72,505|
|Bill Cassidy (R-La)||$23,500|
|Steven Daines (R-Mont)||$35,000|
|Cory Gardner (R-Colo)||$151,550|
|Martin Heinrich (D-NM)||$177,495|
|Mazie K Hirono (D-Hawaii)||$22,095|
|John Hoeven (R-ND)||$113,055|
|Cindy Hyde-Smith (R-Miss)||$57,900|
|Angus King (I-Maine)||$36,600|
|Mike Lee (R-Utah)||$58,400|
|Joe Manchin (D-WVa)||$129,002|
|Catherine Cortez Masto (D-Nev)||$33,767|
|Martha McSally (R-Ariz)||$7,000|
|Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska)||$452,062|
|James E Risch (R-Idaho)||$34,250|
|Bernie Sanders (I-Vt)||$5,397|
|Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich)||$193,063|
|Ron Wyden (D-Ore)||$79,881|
Information courtesy of Center for Responsive Politics.
|Nanette Barragan (D-Calif)||$1,000|
|Gus Bilirakis (R-Fla)||$5,000|
|Susan Brooks (R-Ind)||$6,500|
|Larry Bucshon (R-Ind)||$0|
|Michael Burgess (R-Texas)||$0|
|G K Butterfield (D-NC)||$1,000|
|Tony Cardenas (D-Calif)||$5,000|
|Buddy Carter (R-Ga)||$0|
|Kathy Castor (D-Fla)||$0|
|Diana DeGette (D-Colo)||$1,000|
|Debbie Dingell (D-Mich)||$9,000|
|Mike Doyle (D-Pa)||$6,000|
|Jeff Duncan (R-SC)||$8,500|
|Eliot Engel (D-NY)||$2,000|
|Anna Eshoo (D-Calif)||$1,000|
|Bill Flores (R-Texas)||$1,000|
|Greg Gianforte (R-Mont)||$1,000|
|Morgan Griffith (R-Va)||$21,500|
|Brett Guthrie (R-Ky)||$3,000|
|Richard Hudson (R-NC)||$7,000|
|Bill Johnson (R-Ohio)||$25,000|
|Robin Kelly (D-Ill)||$2,000|
|Joe Kennedy III (D-Mass)||$3,500|
|Adam Kinzinger (R-Ill)||$16,500|
|Ann Kuster (D-NH)||$1,250|
|Robert E Latta (R-Ohio)||$16,500|
|David Loebsack (D-Iowa)||$1,000|
|Billy Long (R-Mo)||$5,000|
|Ben Ray Lujan (D-NM)||$23,500|
|Doris Matsui (D-Calif)||$0|
|Donald McEachin (D-Va)||$8,500|
|David McKinley (R-WVa)||$3,000|
|Jerry McNerney (D-Calif)||$11,000|
|Markwayne Mullin (R-Okla)||$7,000|
|Tom O’Halleran (D-Ariz)||$8,500|
|Pete Olson (R-Texas)||$11,250|
|Frank Pallone Jr. (D-NJ)||$6,500|
|Scott Peters (D-Calif)||$7,500|
|Lisa Blunt Rochester (D-Del)||$5,000|
|Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-Wash)||$7,150|
|Raul Ruiz (D-Calif)||$7,000|
|Bobby L Rush (D-Ill)||$0|
|John Sarbanes (D-Md)||$0|
|Steve Scalise (R-La)||$10,200|
|Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill)||$0|
|Kurt Schrader (D-Ore)||$11,500|
|John Shimkus (R-Ill)||$45,500|
|Darren Soto (D-Fla)||$1,500|
|Paul Tonko (D-NY)||$20,500|
|Fred Upton (R-Mich)||$9,000|
|Marc Veasey (D-Texas)||$14,500|
|Tim Walberg (R-Mich)||$27,250|
|Greg Walden (R-Ore)||$47,000|
|Peter Welch (D-Vt)||$0|
Information courtesy of Center for Responsive Politics.
- Click HERE for my November 8, 2019 Letter to the Senate Ethics Committee
- Click HERE for my November 8, 2019 Letter to the House Ethics Committee