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FERC, NERC to consider need for mandatory standards to protect against physical attacks


From the February 18, 2014 issue of Public Power Daily

Originally published February 18, 2014

By Robert Varela
Editorial Director

Federal Energy Regulatory Commission Acting Chairman Cheryl LaFleur has directed commission staff to work with the North American Electric Reliability Corp. (NERC) to evaluate whether mandatory standards are needed to protect against physical attacks on electric infrastructure, she told a number of senators on Feb. 11. She recommended that Congress enhance the confidentiality of sensitive security information on cyber and physical threats by enacting an exemption from the Freedom of Information Act.

Congress also should consider designating a federal agency (not necessarily FERC) with clear and direct authority to require actions in the event of—or before—an emergency involving a physical or cyber threat to the bulk power system, LaFleur said in identical letters to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev.; Select Committee on Intelligence Chairwoman Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif.; Energy and Natural Resources Subcommittee on Energy Chairman Al Franken, D-Minn.; and Ron Wyden, D-Ore., who recently moved from heading the Energy and Natural Resources Committee to chairing the Finance Committee. In a Feb. 7 letter, the senators had asked FERC and NERC to determine whether additional physical security standards for critical substations are needed.

LaFleur detailed actions taken by FERC and other agencies in the wake of the April 2013 attack on Pacific Gas & Electric Co.’s Metcalf substation. "To date, our efforts have focused on strongly encouraging utilities to make improvements to their physical security, by explaining why and where they should be made," she said. "This approach has resulted in improvements being implemented more confidentially and more quickly than a mandatory regulation could have accomplished under our existing authority."

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