New York City

Sen. Schumer calls for tighter power plant security following California attack

Plants located across NYC

February 16, 2014 By Mary Frost Brooklyn Daily Eagle
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Senator Charles Schumer warns that terrorist attacks —  like a recently publicized April 16 assault on a power station in California — could take down the nation’s power grid, and wants Congress to impose tighter security rules on power plants.

Power companies have the right to veto security improvements, and Schumer is calling on the federal government to allow Congress to overrule their objections in the name of national security.

In the April assault, reported by the Wall Street Journal, multiple snipers took down 17 transformers at a Silicon Valley power plant while standing outside the security perimeters, taking the plant offline for nearly a month.   

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“The fact that these snipers were able to inflict so much damage – and that they are still out there – means we need to re-think the way we implement security measures at our power plants. This is not something that we can rely on the utility industry to do,” Sen. Schumer said in a statement on Sunday.

New York State is home to more than 40 power-generating plants, including four nuclear powered plants, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration and the New York Power Authority.  

In Brooklyn, the  Brooklyn Navy Yard Cogeneration Facility on Flushing Avenue provides steam to Consolidated Edison’s steam system, Brooklyn Navy Yard Development Corp. and New York City’s Red Hook Wastewater Treatment Plant.

Brooklyn is also home to two smaller, gas-fire plants: one at North 1st and Grand streets; and another at 3rd Ave. and 23rd Street. A Con Edison steam substation is located in Vinegar Hill, Brooklyn.

Other power plants in New York City include:

* The East River Generating Station and two gas plants at the Harlem River Yard and Hell Gate in Manhattan;

* The Ravenswood Generating Station and a gas-fired plant on Vernon Ave.  in Queens;  

* The Arthur Kill Generating Station and a gas-fired plant at Pouch Terminal in Staten Island.

The Indian Point nuclear plant is roughly 50 miles from the city, another matter of concern to residents here.

Currently, in order for any safety measure to be implemented nationwide, the North American Electric Reliability Corporation (NERC), an industry group, would have to develop and approve the standards.  The federal government cannot develop or enact any rules without NERC initiating them. According to Schumer, this self-regulation may be preventing the necessary security measures from being enacted.

According to the Center for Security Policy (CSP), the California breach reveals how vulnerable the nation’s interconnected power grid is.

“This is very serious . . . This was a trial run for a terrorist attack,” said Fred Fleitz, a former CIA analyst and FBI agent who is now chief analyst for the global intelligence forecaster LIGNET.

According to CSP, Fleitz said that the because the nation’s power grid is linked by computers, “A major attack on one part of the grid could cause a devastating outage that could put tens of millions of Americans in the dark.”


The full copy of Sen. Schumer’s letter to the Department of Homeland Security and the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission is below:  

Dear Secretary Johnson and Chairman Lafleur:

I write to urge that your agencies act quickly to develop and enforce more stringent standards regarding physical security at substations and other critical facilities necessary to ensure the reliability of the bulk electric power system. A successful attack last April on Pacific Gas & Electric’s Metcalf transmission substation – which severed transmission cables and nearly and nearly shut down the substation, almost caused a large-scale blackout in California and surrounding states and shows the need to improve physical security standards to protect critical electric infrastructure from future attacks. According to Section 1211 of the Energy Policy Act of 2005 (EPAct 2005), FERC has the ability to utilize its authority to determine whether new minimum standards regarding physical security are needed to ensure the reliability of the power grid. Virtually every aspect of our nation’s way of life, from powering our homes and businesses, to transportation  and manufacturing, relies on the reliable generation and delivery of electric power. We must act quickly to prevent another attack from successfully causing widespread damage to our electric infrastructure and the concomitant reliability challenges associated with such an event.

As you are aware, on April 16, 2013, a group of snipers destroyed 17 transformers at an electrical substation in San Jose, California. This attack, which lasted almost 20 minutes, nearly brought down power to all of Silicon Valley. The perpetrators have not yet been caught. This attack underscores how vulnerable our entire electrical grid is to domestic and foreign terrorism, and the need for enhanced safety measures.  Furthermore, recent reports have revealed that the attack on the Metcalf substation in California was not the first time that critical electric infrastructure in the U.S. has been targeted by terrorists. According to an article in The Wall Street Journal, there were 274 major instances of vandalism or deliberate damage to U.S. power plants in the past three years. The article also mentions that terrorist attacks on power plants are a major problem overseas, with 3,000 attacks having been carried out abroad on power lines, towers or substations between 1996 and 2006. Though some steps have been made to protect the grid from physical attacks, more must be done to enact minimum standards. I commend some of the steps some leading companies in the electric power industry and federal agencies have taken to reduce the risk of a physical attack, but voluntary measures by some companies are no substitute for assurances that the power of enforceable standards have for ensuring that all electric power entities that play a significant role in the reliability of our electric power infrastructure are taking the appropriate steps and putting in place necessary measures. Given the interdependent and cascading nature of the electric power grid and the reliability challenges it faces, which flows across different states and utilities, we must make sure that all of the key players are implementing equally strong standards.

According to Section 1211 of the Energy Policy Act of 2005 (EPA act 2005), both the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) and the North American Electric Reliability Corporation (NERC) have the authority to determine whether additional minimum standards regarding physical security at critical substations and other facilities critical to the reliability of the bulk power system. NERC, which is comprised of industry representatives develops and proposes physical security standards while the FERC gives them final approval. While I appreciate that current law calls for mandatory standards to be developed in close consultation with industry, I feel that FERC and DHS must act quickly in order to respond to rapidly emerging threats. Under the current approach, consensus is required between both FERC and NERC to mandate protections, and proposed standards that do not receive support from both NERC and FERC can become voluntary. The process of reaching consensus can often take years, lagging far behind the pace at which new threats develop.

The reasons for moving forward with stronger physical security standards are clear and unmistakable. The Department of Homeland Security’s Presidential Policy Directive (PPD) 21, which was issued last March to address critical infrastructure security and resilience identifies the Energy Sector as uniquely critical because it provides an “enabling function” across all critical infrastructure sectors.  More than 80 percent of the country’s energy infrastructure is owned by the private sector, supplying fuels to the transportation industry, electricity to households and businesses, and other sources of energy that are integral to growth and production across the nation. The reliance of virtually all industries on electric power and fuels means that all sectors have some dependence on the Energy Sector. All entities at the table, FERC, NERC, DHS, as well as the Department of Energy (DOE) must move to update its energy sector specific plans to protect against future attacks.

While I applaud some of the initiative some electric power companies are taking to protect their facilities, the essential nature of our electric infrastructure to every aspect of our way of life calls for stronger mandatory and enforceable standards at the federal level.

Thank you for your attention to this matter. Please don’t hesitate to contact me or my staff should you have any questions.


U.S. Senator Charles. E. Schumer

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