Energy Security Takes Center Stage on Capitol Hill

In the wake of recent terrorist attacks on Washington, DC, New York City and an airliner that crashed in Pennsylvania, issues related to the security of the nation's energy infrastructure came to the fore at a hearing last Thursday on Capitol Hill. Several members of Congress made it clear that they stand ready to craft legislation designed to meet possible threats to the transmission grid, pipelines and other key sectors of the energy industry.

The House Energy and Air Quality Subcommittee was ostensibly convened to hear federal government perspectives on electricity policy. But Rep. Joe Barton (R-TX), chairman of the subcommittee, quickly set the hearing's tone in underscoring Congress' concern over energy security issues.

"This subcommittee stands ready to help the president, the administration, on a bipartisan basis to guarantee to the largest extent possible the security and safety of our infrastructure," Barton said in his opening remarks. "Energy is the lifeblood of our nation's economy," he added. "We have to do everything we can to protect our power plants, transmission assets, pipelines, terminals, production facilities -- the list is endless."

Meanwhile, Rep. Billy Tauzin (R-LA) disclosed that he has been joined by Rep. John Dingell (D-MI) in asking FERC and the Department of Energy for their input on what can be done legislatively in the area of energy security. Tauzin is chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, while Dingell is ranking member of the committee.

"In light of the unprecedented challenges that America faces, our Committee stands ready to assist your Department and to pass legislation to enable you to fully respond to the recent attacks," Tauzin and Dingell said in letters sent to Secretary of Energy Spencer Abraham and FERC Chairman Pat Wood III last week obtained by NGI.

Tauzin and Dingell noted that the committee has already received several requests from federal agencies regarding the possibility of changing certain federal requirements in the wake of the attacks. "We believe that it may be helpful to move emergency legislation within the next few weeks to assist your efforts and bring the full weight of Congress behind your Department's actions."

With that in mind, Tauzin and Dingell asked Wood and Abraham to forward to the committee any specific legislative proposals that will better enable FERC and the DOE to respond to the attacks. "Whether the request relates to the authorization of additional resources for emergency programs or temporarily modifying your authority to undertake certain actions, we will give all of your proposals serious and expedited consideration," they wrote.

Francis Blake, deputy secretary of the DOE, noted that last week's terrorist attacks did not disrupt the U.S. energy infrastructure. "With the exception of the devastation in lower Manhattan, the electricity grid was unaffected." Blake also said that trading in oil and gas proceeded largely without disruption "and under the circumstances, the energy markets have remained remarkably stable, with the exception of a few isolated instances of price gouging and price spikes."

FERC recently sought to assure regulated energy companies that it will give the highest priority to applications that are filed to recover the costs associated with upgrading the security of their systems (see NGI, Sept. 17). In a statement of policy, FERC said that it would approve applications to recover prudently incurred costs needed to "further safeguard the reliability and security of our energy supply infrastructure in response to the heightened state of alert."

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