President Trump’s new Executive Order on Securing the United States Bulk-Power System of May 1, together with his Executive Order on Coordinating National Resilience to Electromagnetic Pulses of March 26, 2019, may well be the most important acts of his presidency.
These executive orders signify the White House, the National Security Council, Department of Homeland Security, Department of Energy, Department of Defense — and alphabet soup of other U.S. government departments and agencies that approved — finally understand the electric power grid is vital to national security.
This has not always been the case.
Until recently, 3,000 electric utilities and their lobbies like the North American Reliability Corporation (NERC), Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI) and Edison Electric Institute (EEI) argued national security is not their business. Inconsistently, electric utilities also claimed they can be trusted to regulate and protect themselves from solar and manmade EMP, cyber attacks and sabotage.
Simultaneously, NERC, EPRI and EEI discredited themselves with bogus studies underestimating all these threats.
The Congressional EMP Commission and other scientific and strategic experts, after laboring for 20 years, have finally worked a profound and necessary change in the way Washington thinks about national security — to include the electric power grid, upon which the operation of all other life-sustaining critical infrastructures and the lives of 330 million Americans depend.
The new Executive Order on Securing the United States Bulk-Power System recognizes electric grids are so important the United States should reduce dependency on equipment critical to grid operations — such as control systems, transformers and generators — manufactured by foreign nations:
“The bulk-power system is a target of those seeking to commit malicious acts against the United States and its people, including malicious cyber activities, because a successful attack on our bulk-power system would present significant risks to our economy, human health and safety, and would render the United States less capable of acting in defense of itself and its allies.”
Therefore: “… the unrestricted acquisition or use in the United States of bulk-power system electric equipment designed, developed, manufactured, or supplied by persons owned by, controlled by, or subject to the jurisdiction or direction of foreign adversaries augments the ability of foreign adversaries to create and exploit vulnerabilities in bulk-power system electric equipment, with potentially catastrophic effects.”
EMP Commission reports warn that Russia, China, North Korea and Iran plan to attack U.S. power grids using EMP, cyber attacks and sabotage in combination to blackout the United States and win a war.
Trusting China or others to manufacture U.S. electric-grid equipment makes no more sense than trusting them to make U.S. aircraft carriers, fighter aircraft and missiles.
Ideally, all critical equipment for the U.S. electric power grid should be made in the USA. Achieving self-sufficiency in the supply of such equipment should be our goal.
Unfortunately, the United States cannot make some critical equipment, like extra-high-voltage (EHV) transformers, which currently are imported from South Korea and Germany.
Even importing equipment from U.S. allies is risky as the “chain of custody” from manufacturing to delivery offers too many opportunities to hostile intelligence services.
If the U.S. and Israel managed to sabotage Iran’s nuclear weapons program by inserting the Stuxnet worm into Tehran’s ultra-secure underground uranium enrichment complex at Fordow, imagine what China, Russia, North Korea or Iran could do to EHV transformers or control systems being manufactured overseas and shipped to the United States.
The new executive order creates a special task force to review and approve critical equipment of foreign manufacture. But the safest solution will be to, as soon as possible, end these foreign dependencies by making equipment in America.
An executive order is only as good as its implementation.
Will the Department of Energy and other U.S. government bureaucracies, that have long had a too cozy relationship with the electric utilities, aggressively enforce the new executive order, or find loopholes and excuses to return to business as usual?
Ambassador Henry Cooper, long a leading champion of grid security, raises legitimate criticisms of the new executive order, and about the commitment and competency of U.S. government bureaucrats tasked with protecting the national grid in “New Executive Order Mixed Bag” High Frontier (May 5, 2020):
• Why is the electric distribution system, that powers the homes of average Americans, unaddressed in the new executive order?
• Why have DOE and DHS long neglected the very generous offer by Duke Energy to provide an EHV transformer for EMP testing?
• Why are DOE and DHS apparently uninterested and providing no support to pilot projects at Lake Wylie, South Carolina, to protect a nuclear reactor, and in San Antonio, Texas, to protect a grid vital to that city and several U.S. military bases?
I would add: Why is DHS not aggressively circulating its own excellent report “DHS EMP Protection Guidelines for Equipment and Facilities”? If DHS will not energetically promote its own work, how about excellent work by independents like the Foundation for Resilient Societies report “Protecting U.S. Electric Grid Communications from Electromagnetic Pulse?”
So far, most of the heavy lifting on national grid security is being done by independent patriots outside the U.S. government.
• Peter Vincent Pry, director of the Task Force on National and Homeland Security, served as chief of staff on the Congressional EMP Commission, and on the staffs of the House Armed Service Committee and the CIA. He is author most recently of “The Power And The Light” (Amazon.com).