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A natural gas pipeline in Colorado. Photo: Jerry Cleveland/The Denver Post via Getty Images

Foreign enemies are increasingly launching cyberattacks on U.S. critical infrastructure, including energy facilities. To protect against attacks that could compromise electric service, grid operators must comply with mandatory standards overseen by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC).

Yes, but: The U.S. has no comparable standards for its network of pipelines. As abundant and affordable natural gas has become a major part of the fuel mix, the cybersecurity threats to that supply have taken on new urgency.

The big picture: FERC has the authority to issue certificates for new interstate gas pipelines and to set their rates, but not to regulate their security. That charge falls to the Transportation Security Administration (TSA), the same agency that oversees 851 million aviation passengers per year, 138,000 miles of railroad track and 4 million miles of highway.

In May 2017, TSA confirmed that it had just 6 full-time employees tasked with securing the more than 2.7 million miles of natural gas, oil and hazardous liquid pipelines that traverse the country. Moreover, despite having the authority to enforce mandatory cybersecurity standards, the TSA relies on voluntary ones.

Given the high stakes, Congress should vest responsibility for pipeline security with an agency that fully comprehends the energy sector and has sufficient resources to address this growing threat. The Department of Energy (DOE) could be an appropriate choice: It is the Sector-Specific Agency for energy security and recently created its own cybersecurity office.

The ultimate regulator must have the statutory authority, resources and commitment to implement mandatory standards, as FERC has done for the electric grid for more than a decade. While the electric sector presents different operational risks, the essential starting point for these reforms is standards that are both mandatory and tailored to the pipeline network's greatest threats.

The bottom line: U.S. energy consumers depend on the electric grid. Its safety and security demand smart, effective, and up-to-date threat protections.

Neil Chatterjee and Richard Glick are both Commissioners at the FERC.

Go deeper

Updated 12 mins ago - Energy & Environment

Thousands without power as "hazardous" winter storm lashes East Coast

Satellite imagery of the Northeastern U.S. taken by NOAA on Jan. 17. Photo: NOAA

A major winter storm lashed much of the East Coast Sunday and Monday, causing widespread power outages and disrupting travel over the holiday weekend.

The latest: Authorities in North Carolina confirmed that two people died in a car crash and that they responded 600 vehicle accidents during the storm on Sunday, per the Washington Post.

3 hours ago - Health

CDC director says COVID-19 messaging should have been clearer

Rochelle Walensky. Photo: Stefani Reynolds-Pool/Getty Images

Rochelle Walensky, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said in an interview with the Wall Street Journal that the messaging around the COVID-19 pandemic and changing guidance should have been clearer.

State of play: Walensky is being coached by media experts and is planning to have more press briefings by herself in order to ensure that CDC is seen as an independent, scientific entity, rather than as a political one, the Journal reports.

3 hours ago - World

UAE asks U.S. to reinstate Houthi terrorist designation after attack

Secretary of State Tony Blinken (left) listens to United Arab Emirates Foreign Minister Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed al-Nahyan during a joint news conference at the State Department iin October. Photo: Andrew Harnik/Pool/AFP via Getty Images

Emirati Foreign Minister Abdullah Bin Zayed asked Secretary of State Tony Blinken in a phone call Monday to re-designate the Houthi rebels in Yemen as a terrorist organization, a senior Emirati official told Axios.

Why it matters: Less than a month after he assumed office, President Biden rolled back the Trump administration’s decision to make the designation. He said it hampered humanitarian assistance to the Yemeni people. Since then, the Houthis have escalated their attacks against Saudi Arabia and other countries in the region — including an attack Monday in Abu Dhabi.

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