As Trump Calls for Grid Security, Will Utilities Break With Beijing?

May 5, 2020 Updated: May 12, 2020

Commentary

President Donald Trump issued an unprecedented executive order on May 1, taking significant and long-overdue steps to remedy what the order described as “a national emergency with respect to the threat to the United States bulk-power system.”

The order identifies the grave threat to America’s electrical grid from malicious foreign actors through supply chain vulnerabilities and cyber threats, where outsourcing foreign parts and software leave the grid vulnerable to espionage and sabotage.

The need to have critical parts and equipment produced in the United States has been brought into stark relief during the ongoing Wuhan coronavirus crisis. Ensuring critical components and materials are produced by U.S. companies in the United States has, thankfully, always been a major agenda item for the president.

In the president’s executive order, “the term ‘foreign adversary’ means any foreign government or foreign non-government person engaged in a long‑term pattern or serious instances of conduct significantly adverse to the national security of the United States or its allies or the security and safety of United States persons.”

Trump didn’t identify China as an adversary in his executive order, but over the past three-plus decades, the Chinese Communist Party’s long-term pattern of conduct clearly indicates the threat posed by it to the security of the United States and our allies.

The president’s executive order comes after years of self-regulation of the bulk power electric system by the North American Electric Reliability Corp., its overseer the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, and a resulting “bureaucratic gridlock that has endangered the electric grid—and every citizen of the United States,” as thoroughly documented by retired U.S. Army Command Sgt. Maj. Michael Mabee.

The Edison Electric Institute (EEI), which represents nearly all investor-owned U.S. electric utilities and is among the most effective lobbying organizations for the entire utility industry, publicly commended Trump on his executive order, as reported in The Wall Street Journal. Tom Kuhn, the president of EEI, said the order “reflects this ongoing collaboration with the federal government and provides new ways to mitigate threats to electric-sector critical infrastructure.”

Unfortunately, though, it isn’t only the federal government that EEI has “ongoing collaboration” with. EEI includes among its membership the China Southern Power Grid and State Grid Corp. of China. These EEI “international members” are state-owned corporations that have an obligation under Chinese law to “support, assist and cooperate with the state intelligence work.”

In the past, EEI opposed improved cybersecurity protection for grid infrastructure, downplayed the threat of electromagnetic pulse (EMP), and argued that companies violating federal Critical Infrastructure Protection standards should be withheld from public scrutiny. All of which make the grid more vulnerable to foreign adversaries, including China.

China’s early efforts to deceive the world about the effects and origins of the recent pandemic, and the regime’s ongoing drive to exploit the disaster, have shamed and embarrassed U.S. universities and biological laboratories that partnered with China prior to the outbreak. Utility providers and lobbyists should take a serious look at their collaboration with China before a similar disaster befalls America’s electrical grid.

On May 4, EEI released a short video titled “Powering Through Together” as a tribute to its members on the front lines keeping the lights on during the current pandemic. Indeed, we must all be grateful for the hard work of our electric utilities to keep the power flowing to our hospitals and homes.

At the same time, we must also expect that the leaders of these utilities and their lobbying associations prioritize their security as much as their profits and public image. Trump just gave them the top cover to do this, so now is the time for them to break with communist China. Will they?

Tommy Waller serves as director of infrastructure protection at the Center for Security Policy. Waller currently manages the Secure the Grid Coalition—a group of policymakers, defense professionals, and activists working diligently to secure America’s most critical infrastructure—the U.S. electric grid. Learn more at SecureTheGrid.com

Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.