Washington, DC – The Energy Subcommittee held a hearing this week with Department of Energy (DOE) Secretary Dan Brouillette on issues impacting the energy sector. U.S. energy security is imperative to our national security, and the discussion highlighted the need to secure our electric grid, especially as the COVID-19 pandemic put a focus on the need to stop supply chain threats, and to ensure DOE has the resources to promote energy innovation.
Check out the full hearing HERE, and a few moments from the hearing below.
Implementing President Trump’s Executive Order to Secure our Bulk Power System
Energy Subcommittee Republican Leader Fred Upton (R-MI): Back in May the President issued an executive order to secure the U.S. bulk power system, and having many […] classified briefings, it’s crystal clear that the threats to the bulk power system by foreign adversaries constitutes what could be a real national emergency. The grid is absolutely fundamental to our critical infrastructure, our national security, and our economy. If our foreign adversaries were able to take control of our grid or degrade equipment such as transformer, we could be in very serious trouble. What is the status of DOE’s rulemaking to implement the executive order, and what are statutory authorities Congress should consider that would provide DOE on a more promising basis?
Secretary Brouillette: We have moved forward with the implementation of the executive order. I know that there’s some perceived confusion in the industry. We want to alleviate the industry of any anxiety it might have about this as we move forward with a proposed rule later this year. […] As you mentioned, sir, the bulk power system is the backbone of the electric grid. It underpins everything in America in regards to our electric system. What we’re doing is we’re seeking to operationalize the executive order through four pillars to implement it. One, we want to prohibit foreign adversaries from supplying particular bulk power system electric equipment. We want to establish a list of pre-qualified vendors that the utility industry can use to purchase from. We want to develop advisory recommendations for the identification, the isolation, the monitoring, and the replacement of any currently at-risk equipment that’s on the system. However, that does not mean we are going to rip and replace the entire electric grid of the United States. We’re focused on the bulk power system, not […] the distribution system. And then importantly what the president has directed me to do is to create a task force. I will convene with others, the Secretary of Defense in particular, so that we can begin the process of perhaps recommend to you, the Congress, certain procurement policies that are going to be directly related to this national security mission.
COVID-19 and the Resiliency and Reliability of Our Electric Grid
Secretary Brouillette: As we have seen during this pandemic, […] our reliance on the electric grid has just increased exponentially over the course of the last few decades. Almost everything that we do depends in some way, shape, or form on the provision of energy and electricity in particular. As we looked at the pandemic, we were obviously concerned about hospitals and the provision of health care throughout America. But now, as we’ve gotten beyond at least some of the initial moments of the pandemic, and we start to look at how the economy is going to change, we’re looking at things like teleworking. I don’t have to remind anyone in this hearing because we’re doing it today: you can’t telework without WiFi. You don’t have WiFi without electricity. So the importance of the grid to our daily life has almost been heightened by this pandemic, and we all see it. It’s important we all think about things like resiliency and reliability in perhaps a different way than we have in years past. We’ve created at the Department of Energy a resiliency model which is going to allow us, when fully developed, and we’re very close to bringing this out, to see the entire grid in real-time and address challenges that we may face in almost every part of the country. Be it a cyberthreat, or be it a load threat, we work closely with the utilities and can see these things in real-time and address them in real-time. In certain cases, as we develop the model, we may be able to predict load challenges or potential threats that we need to address so we can ensure safe, reliable provision of electricity.
Securing our Nuclear Supply Chain
Committee Republican Leader Bob Latta (R-OH): On the issues of the nuclear supply chain, and the need to create a reliable domestic nuclear industry, we need to pursue policies that would be good for our economy and consistent with our security policies to counter Russia and China. These policies include domestic uranium and conversion. I am pleased to see DOE’s efforts to establish a uranium reserve, and I appreciate the assistance your staff has provided my office as we draft legislation to authorize this reserve. […] Mr. Secretary, on the nuclear issues I have raised, how vital is it that the United States build up its own domestic nuclear supply chain, and how will a strategic uranium reserve help us do this?
Secretary Brouillette: I think it’s absolutely critical that we further develop the front end the fuel cycle here in America. We’ve lost our leadership edge in America regarding the provision of nuclear power, and today, I don’t have the exact number, but the vast majority of the fuel that is purchased by the civilian nuclear fleet here in the United States is purchased primarily from Russia. They supply the fuel chain. So if we were to lose that, I think we endanger Americans all across the country. It’s very important for us to address, and that’s what we’re attempting to do. I think we should create a uranium reserve that not just includes pulling the uranium out of the mine, but the processes that go along with it – the conversion process, the enrichment process. We think we need to bring these businesses back to America to secure the security of our fleet and to ensure the security of the provision of electric power here in the United States. That’s the commitment of our Administration, that’s what we’re looking for support for in this nuclear fuel working group.
Ensuring the Security of Our Gas Pipelines
Rep. David McKinley (R-WV): Improving our energy security improves our national security. Do you agree?
Secretary Brouillette: Yes.
Rep. McKinley: If gas-fired power plants provide nearly 40 percent of America’s energy, do all gas-fired power plants get their natural gas from pipelines?
Secretary Brouillette: Yes, in America. Pretty much.
Rep. McKinley: And if 90 percent of our natural gas is transported by pipelines, is it fair to say, therefore, that pipelines are an essential part of our national security?
Secretary Brouillette: Yes.
Rep. Upton: Is there anything we can do with gas pipelines to ensure safety?
Secretary Brouillette: If I were to point to one thing we could do an even more aggressive job with regards to pipelines it would be in the area of cybersecurity. The major pipelines are doing just fine, we work with them very closely. They are very much a part in parcel to what we do at DOE. The CEOs are very engaging and collaborative. If I have a concern about pipelines in America today, it is perhaps with regard to some of the smaller members of the industry. They simply in some cases do not have the resources needed to protect the infrastructure to the degree to which we would like to see them be protected. I would look forward to working with you, members of the Committee, others in the industry, to help design programs and policies that address what I think is a growing national security concern.
The Importance of DOE’s Continued Leadership of NNSA
Secretary Brouillette: I think it’s important to recognize, as Chairman Rush mentioned and as Ranking Member Walden alluded to, that not many people understand the Department of Energy and its actual mission, the breadth of the portfolio, the breadth of the mission. Every year, the Secretary of Energy and the Secretary of Defense must certify the stockpile and in essence, in plain language, ensure to the President it will do what he or she would like it to do if they wanted to use it. That process is assigned at the cabinet level and it is important that the Secretary of Energy see the entire process for the development of the budget, the operations within NNSA, all the activities that occur within the National Weapons Labs, in order to remain comfortable that that certification is in fact solid. […] It’s very important that I see that.