Trump Looks to Secure U.S. Power Grid From Foreign Attacks

(Bloomberg) -- President Donald Trump has signed an executive order aimed at securing the nation’s electricity system from foreign adversaries, a move that could restrict certain overseas companies from exporting products to the U.S.

The order, which doesn’t name any specific countries or companies, blocks U.S. purchases of certain power-system equipment from entities deemed a risk to national security. It empowers the secretary of energy to identify those parties and establish criteria for restricting transactions with them. The order also establishes a new task force on federal energy infrastructure procurement.

“It is imperative the bulk-power system be secured against exploitation and attacks by foreign threats,” U.S. Energy Secretary Dan Brouillette said in a statement. “This executive order will greatly diminish the ability of foreign adversaries to target our critical electric infrastructure.”

Foreign-produced equipment subject to the restrictions include transformers, capacitors, and metering equipment used in power transmission. The order could result in more of those parts being manufactured in the U.S., according to a senior Energy Department official, who asked not be named, citing agency policy.

In his order, Trump declared a national emergency relating to threats against the bulk power system and accused foreign adversaries of “increasingly creating and exploiting vulnerabilities” in the U.S. grid. The task force has to submit a report to the president within a year of the date of the order.

“This executive order is an important first step to address dangerous cyber-related vulnerabilities in the electric sector supply chain,” said Jim Cunningham, executive director of Protect Our Power, a nonprofit that works to strengthen the grid. The order highlights a looming threat that security experts have identified for some time now, he said.

In recent years, members of Congress and the Trump administration have raised concerns about the power grid’s vulnerability to foreign interference. A report by the Director of National Intelligence last year warned that both China and Russia have the ability to launch cyber-attacks targeting both the electrical grid and natural gas pipelines.

“Moscow is mapping our critical infrastructure with the long-term goal of being able to cause substantial damage,” the report said.

Huawei Technologies Co., the Chinese producer of solar panels, energy-storage technology and telecommunications infrastructure, has been singled out as a particular threat to the American power grid.

A group of senators in December called on the administration to protect the power system, arguing that inverters produced by the company could put the grid at risk of foreign surveillance.

Trump has already effectively blocked Huawei and certain other Chinese firms from the U.S. telecommunications market.

“I applaud the Administration for today’s important action. The President’s Executive Order tightens stands for provision of certain equipment for the bulk electric system, helping to protect our energy infrastructure from foreign adversaries,” said U.S. Federal Energy Regulatory Commission Chairman Neil Chatterjee. “It is a timely and necessary step that will enhance the security of the U.S. grid. The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission stands ready to assist the Department of Energy and other members of the interagency task force in any way we can.”

©2020 Bloomberg L.P.

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