WASHINGTON – Governmental Affairs Committee Ranking Member Joe Lieberman, D-Conn. – in an effort to learn from past mistakes to better protect the American public in the future – requested two inquiries Friday related to the widespread electric power failure that paralyzed six northern states the day before.
Noting that Thursday’s blackout dramatically illustrates our vulnerability to terrorist attack, Lieberman urged the Department of Homeland Security to do what it should have done long ago and identify key electric infrastructures, assess their vulnerability to cyber or physical attack, and develop a plan to protect them.
In a separate letter to the Chairman of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, Lieberman asked for an investigation into the origins of what led to the largest blackout in American history.
“The electric infrastructure is far too valuable to the quality of life of all Americans for it to become a gap in homeland security,” Lieberman said. “We must discover precisely what went wrong and we must then redouble our efforts to protect the electricity grid – and the rest of our critical infrastructure – from potential terrorist attack.”
On March 20, 2003, Lieberman asked Ridge to provide a status report on efforts to protect the critical infrastructure, including electricity transmission. He received no response and there is no indication the Bush Administration has ever identified the list of potential critical infrastructure targets that need protection, much less evaluated their vulnerability, or implemented measures to protect them.
“It is disconcerting that the President would describe yesterday’s events as a ‘wake up call,’” Lieberman said. “The reality is that the Administration has simply failed to provide the leadership or resources necessary to ensure that our critical infrastructure is adequately protected.
“This incident has provided a stark illustration of what could happen if the electric grid were attacked by terrorists. Protecting the critical infrastructure from physical or cyber attacks must be a top priority and we need leadership from the top – and the necessary resources – to do the job.
“The Department of Homeland Security must work in tandem with the other agencies and energy companies to understand precisely what happened and take the steps necessary to ensure our power lines are properly protected. Whatever safeguards we eventually take against a terrorist attack will inevitably provide benefits in the event of disruption due to other forces, such as what apparently happened Thursday.”
“Electricity is not just another commodity. It’s an essential service and we need to make sure it is consistently reliable.”
In the Spring of 2001, as Chairman of the Governmental Affairs Committee, Lieberman held a series of hearings on the impact of deregulation on the energy markets. One hearing focused on the need to improve our electric reliability system to keep pace with changes in the electricity industry.