House panel seeks information on FERC cyber security effort

Republican members on the House Energy and Commerce Committee on Oct. 11 requested information from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission about the agency’s new Office of Energy Infrastructure Security (OEIS).

The letter asks FERC Chairman Jon Wellinghoff, who had announceed the creation of the office on Sept. 20, about his view on FERC’s statutory authority in this area and OEIS’ jurisdiction, funding, and responsibilities.

“The request continues the committee’s ongoing cybersecurity oversight and its efforts to ensure the protection of our nation’s critical infrastructure while ensuring that any government actions do not impede the ability of these systems to respond to threats or maintain efficient and effective operations,” the GOP majority said in an Oct. 11 statement. “Signing the letter was full committee Chairman Fred Upton (R-MI), Energy and Power Subcommittee Chairman Ed Whitfield (R-KY), Rep. Tim Murphy (R-PA), Rep. Lee Terry (R-NE), and Rep. Bob Latta (R-OH).”

“The protection of the nation’s critical infrastructure, including those facilities subject to FERC jurisdiction, such as the bulk-power system, pipelines, and hydropower facilities, is vital to the country’s economic well-being and the safety and security of our citizens,” the letter said in part. “The Committee on Energy and Commerce, in its oversight role, continues to assess the critical infrastructure planning and protection efforts of the appropriate federal agencies, oversee the protection, mitigation and resiliency efforts of private asset owners, and evaluate opportunities to better secure critical infrastructure, such as through improved information sharing.”

The letter added: “The Committee shares the goals of the Commission to ensure the nation’s energy infrastructure is protected from physical and cyber threats and we look forward to learning more about the objectives of the OEIS.”

The OEIS provides leadership, expertise and assistance to the commission to identify, communicate and seek comprehensive solutions to potential risks to FERC-jurisdictional facilities from cyber attacks and such physical threats as electromagnetic pulses, the FERC website said. FERC said the OEIS focus is on matters like:

  • Developing recommendations for identifying, communicating and mitigating potential cyber and physical security threats and vulnerabilities to FERC-jurisdictional energy facilities using the commission’s existing statutory authority;
  • Providing assistance, expertise and advice to federal and state agencies, utilities and Congress in identifying, communicating and mitigating potential cyber and physical threats and vulnerabilities to FERC-jurisdictional energy facilities; and
  • Participating in interagency and intelligence-related coordination and collaboration efforts with federal and state agencies and industry officials on cyber and physical security matters related to FERC-jurisdictional energy facilities including, but not limited to, participating in conferences, workshops and classified briefings.

In the Sept. 20 announcement about the creation of the office, Wellinghoff said: “Creating this office allows FERC to leverage its existing resources with those of other government agencies and private industry in a coordinated, focused manner. Effective mitigation of cyber and other physical attacks requires rapid interactions among regulators, industry and federal and state agencies.”

FERC said it will continue to work closely in this area with the North American Electric Reliability Corp. (NERC), the national electric reliability organization certified by FERC. OEIS is led by Joseph McClelland, who had been Director of the agency’s Office of Electric Reliability since its formation in 2006.

About Barry Cassell 20414 Articles
Barry Cassell is Chief Analyst for GenerationHub covering coal and emission controls issues, projects and policy. He has covered the coal and power generation industry for more than 24 years, beginning in November 2011 at GenerationHub and prior to that as editor of SNL Energy’s Coal Report. He was formerly with Coal Outlook for 15 years as the publication’s editor and contributing writer, and prior to that he was editor of Coal & Synfuels Technology and associate editor of The Energy Report. He has a bachelor’s degree from Central Michigan University.