Given decades of warning of the existential threat posed by an electromagnetic pulse (EMP) attack since the 2001 Congressional EMP Commission report to a closed session of Congress — and subsequent reports, I welcomed the November 24th Washington Times front-page article: that the “Clock is ticking” as experts have warned that the U.S. is vulnerable to Chinese electromagnetic attack.
But, after studying this 2,740-page so-called $1.2 trillion “Infrastructure Act” recently signed into law by President Biden, colleagues and I find little that would, or could, support protecting the electric power grid.
Then, after Rep. Kevin McCarthy spent over 8-1/2 hours in the longest-ever House filibuster opposing the so-called “Build Back Better” bill that nevertheless passed, 220-to-213, that $1.75 trillion-dollar bill will now be considered by the Senate where it could die, but at least will be debated.
For example, President Biden and others claimed it was fully paid for, but the independent Congressional Budget Office assessed a $367 billion shortfall for 2022-2031 and The Wall Street Journal reported that the Penn Warton Budget Model estimates $4.6 trillion, and the Committee for Responsible Federal Budget estimates $4.9 trillion —and opined $2 trillion to 3 trillion more than the CBO estimate.
Senators Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., and Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz., may resist passage at least in this Bill’s current form and support further negotiations — any amendment will return the bill to the House with subsequent House-Senate conference activities. Possibilities?
That bill now seeks “green energy” (e.g., solar and wind power) advances to provide electricity to our electric grid and could be amended to assure it can counter current threats — including against the existential EMP threat from Russia, China, North Korea and Iran — all of whom have included EMP in their military doctrine as the most horrific cyberattack threat.
To repeat: Washington has not addressed this threat. My May 4, 2017 testimony before the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee emphasized this failing. And editors of the American Legion Magazine were not far from this truth in titling my April 20, 2018 article based on that testimony: "The Threat We Fail To Address."
I’ve also elaborated on these concerns in many Newsmax articles. See my July 28, 2021 article for a recent summary, where I think things remain today as Congress prepares to address the so-called “Build-Back Better” proposed legislation.
An example of this lethargy is how Washington has not responded to our South Carolina efforts to address these issues “from the bottom-up,” beginning with an effort called the Lake Wylie Pilot Study that over two years ago demonstrated that the Distribution Grid in York County, S.C., could be protected for less that $100-per-York County citizen.
We have sought $30 million for over two years to validate that estimate by protecting the York County Distribution Grid and developing a gameplan for extending that hardening throughout South Carolina and beyond, throughout the nation.
And note that our partner, Duke Energy, over two years ago gave a large transformer to Clemson University and the Savannah River Laboratory for testing in the same reactor structure where I had my first job in 1956 — when that and four other reactors were producing critical nuclear products for our strategic systems.
That transformer has sat idle at the Clemson University Restoration Center (CURI) in North Charleston, S.C., awaiting funds from the Department of Energy to ship it up the Savannah River to be tested in one of the five reactor facilities that has been prepared to receive it.
Understand that the Savannah River Site (SRS) involves a remote 300-square-mile area. Its on-site electric power grid would permit full-scale EMP testing, which I believe is not available at any other U.S. site. And there could be associated cyberattack testing in conjunction with Fort Gordon’s Army Cyber Command Headquarters if this obvious initiative were funded.
My July 16, 2021 and July 22, 2021 Newsmax articles observed that U.S. power companies have purchased hundreds of such large untested transformers from China and installed them in our electric power grid. Assessing this practice should be a top priority for testing such large transformers that are essential components of our grid.
Emphasizing the continuing delay in such obvious initiatives illustrates my frustration that is shared by some Senators, e.g., as Senator Ron Johnson concluded his February 17, 2019 hearing:
"The existential threat posed by electromagnetic pulses (EMP) and geomagnetic disturbances (GMD)" for decades, but without "sufficient public pressure to take effective action to mitigate these threats. Instead, we establish commissions and study panels, conduct research, and develop plans to develop strategies. It is way past time to stop admiring this problem, and actually begin to do something concrete to protect our vulnerable electrical grid, control systems, and the ever-increasing array of electronic devices our society has become dependent upon."
I hoped that this situation would change, based on former Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm’s January 27, 2021 confirmation hearing to become Secretary of Energy. Her encouraging response to questions by Senator Murkowski indicated that she understands at least the importance of the distribution grid:
"...We have 5 million miles of distribution wires, 200,000 miles of high-voltage electric wires. I haven’t been fully briefed on the national security, and the confidential aspects of the SolarWinds cyber hack, but clearly that’s one example and we are getting hacked all the time and attacked all the time. We will have, inside the DOE, a person at a very high level that is responsible for making sure the response to this is coordinated. We have to harden our electric grid for protection of our energy system. I hope that this is a part of the infrastructure package that will be coming from the administration as well." (Emphasis added)
But little if anything has happened to protect this absolutely vital infrastructure.
So, will the trillions now being spent make any difference? Stay tuned.