Perry’s defends Trump’s directive: ‘Attacks are coming’

Source: Hannah Northey and Blake Sobczak, E&E News reporters • Posted: Tuesday, June 5, 2018

Energy Secretary Rick Perry today said President Trump was “right” to order the Department of Energy to halt the closure of coal and nuclear plants, while warning that the nation’s pipelines are vulnerable to cyberthreats.

“Fuel-secure units are retiring at an alarming rate that, if unchecked, will threaten our ability to recover from intentional attacks or from natural disasters,” Perry told DOE’s cybersecurity conference in Austin, Texas.

“The president is right to view grid resilience as a serious national security issue, and he’s directed me to prepare immediate steps to stop the loss of these critical resources,” he said.

Cyberthreats, Perry said, are growing in size and sophistication and “metastasizing,” while bad actors — hostile regimes, terrorist groups and criminals — are zeroing in on the United States’ critical infrastructure, energy assets and connected “internet of things” devices.

Perry also said the nation must focus on protecting infrastructure like pipelines but that the federal government cannot forget about the rest of the fuels that make the grid diverse, reliable and resilient.

The secretary’s cyber-focused comments are the first he has made since the White House revealed Friday that the president had ordered Perry to immediately stop the closure of nuclear and coal plants (Greenwire, June 1).

One proposal the White House appears to be considering would require grid operators to buy power from unidentified U.S. coal and nuclear power plants to prevent their “premature” retirement.

While that draft plan has not yet been approved, DOE is moving forward with a separate reorganization centered on cybersecurity.

The department’s newly minted Office of Cybersecurity, Energy Security and Emergency Response (CESER), currently led by acting Assistant Secretary Bruce Walker, is charged with leading the federal response to grid threats from hackers, natural disasters or wide-scale physical attacks.

Perry today outlined a new program, dubbed “accelerating cybersecurity in the energy sector,” or ACES, that appears to fit in with the reorganization.

He said the goal of the effort is to address “known gaps” in cyber readiness, such as those highlighted in a DOE report last week on the energy sector’s preparedness for a major hacking incident (Energywire, May 31).

That “Assessment of Electricity Disruption Incident Response Capabilities” keyed in on the risk of a blackout disrupting military operations at major defense installations, a risk Perry again emphasized in his speech today.

Parts of DOE’s draft plan to keep coal and nuclear plants open are drawn word-for-word from the assessment, including the takeaway that the U.S. military’s dependence on the commercial power sector “makes electricity reliability and resilience enormously important for national defense.”

Today made clear that DOE is using cyberthreats as further justification for propping up “subject generation facilities,” but exactly how the agency or the Trump administration will move forward in the face of mounting legal questions remains uncertain.

“We know that attacks are coming, and we can never let down our guard,” Perry said.