While noting that they share FERC’s goal of protecting the nation’s energy infrastructure from physical and cyber security threats, top Republicans on the House Energy and Commerce Committee questioned the agency about the statutory authority that it relied upon to create the new Office of Energy Infrastructure Security (OEIS) to shield facilities from these risks.

“What is the jurisdiction of the [OEIS] and on what specific statutory authority does FERC rely to establish and fund this new office,” wrote Committee Chairman Fred Upton (R-MI) in a recent letter to Federal Energy Regulatory Commission Chairman Jon Wellinghoff. “What statutory responsibilities will the office carry out” for electric, natural gas, hydropower and oil?

In announcing the creation of the office last month, the Commission said the office would develop “recommendations for identifying, communicating and mitigating cyber and physical security threats and vulnerabilities” to energy infrastructure (see Daily GPI, Sept. 24). The House lawmakers asked FERC whether it believes “it has authority (beyond approved NERC consensus-based standards under Section 215 of the Federal Power Act) to compel jurisdictional entities to implement OEIS recommendations regarding cyber or other threats?” The North American Electric Reliability Corp. (NERC) has authority from FERC to enforce reliability standards.

“If OEIS issues recommendations to industry, what obligation will a jurisdictional entity be under to follow the recommendations? If none, what assurances are in place to separate this effort from FERC’s enforcement and compliance efforts? Has the Commission evaluated what legal consequences could arise…from an entity declining to follow OEIS recommendations for identifying and communicating threats,” asked the House Republicans, who also included Reps. Ed Whitfield of Kentucky, Lee Perry of Nebraska, Tim Murphy of Pennsylvania and Bob Latta of Ohio.

The five committee members also pressed Wellinghoff on the funding and staffing needs of the new office. “Will OEIS require any additional funding from Congress? If so, how much and for what purposes? How much funding is the Commission currently spending on the functions and responsibility that will now be conducted by the OEIS…If new positions are to be created, please identify the number of new employees anticipated [and] the purpose of each position.”

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