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Representative Ed Markey calls on President Obama to strengthen cyber security through executive order

Representative Edward J. Markey on Wednesday called on President Obama to issue an executive order aimed at safeguarding the US electrical grid against cyber attacks.

In a letter to the president, Markey urged Obama to grant additional regulatory authority to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. Markey argued new regulations are needed to compel electrical companies to bolster their cyber security protections.

“That way, we need not be at the mercy of an industry that has been inexcusably slow to act,” Markey wrote.

The White House did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Markey’s letter, but spokesman Jay Carney said last week that Obama would not rule out an executive order of the sort requested by Markey.


White House counterterrorism adviser John Brennan also raised the possibility of an executive order on Wednesday.

“One of the things that we have to do in the executive branch is to see what we can do to maybe put additional ... guidelines or policy in place under executive branch authorities,” Brennan told the Council on Foreign Relations. “If the Congress is not going to act on something like this, then the president is going to do everything possible.”

Markey, a Democrat, has been pushing for heightened cyber security regulations for more than two years. In 2010, he co-authored a bipartisan bill, known as the Grid Reliability and Infrastructure Defense (GRID) Act, which directed the energy commission to impose tougher security requirements on electrical companies.

The bill was unanimously approved by both the House Energy and Commerce Committee, which Markey chairs, and the full House.

But the bill has been stalled ever since, a holdup Markey blamed on Senate Republicans’ acquiescence to utility sector lobbyists in his letter to Obama.

“It is unconscionable that Congress has failed to take decisive legislative action to address what should be a nonpartisan national security issue,” Markey wrote.


A separate cyber security bill that would have imposed voluntary standards on utility companies failed in the Senate last week.

Last month, Joseph McClelland, director of the energy commission’s Office of Electric Reliability, testified before the Senate that “the commission’s current authority is not adequate to address cyber or other national security threats to the reliability of our transmission and power system.”

Callum Borchers can be reached at callum.borchers@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @callumborchers.