U.S. Critical Electric Infrastructure: the Battle for Truth
by CYNTHIA E AYERS
April 30, 2012
All truth passes through three stages. First, it is ridiculed. Second, it is violently opposed. Third, it is accepted as being self-evident.
German Philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer
In the context of Schopenhauer's statement above, we have entered the second stage in a battle over the truth as it concerns protection of our U.S. critical electric infrastructure. Unfortunately, the battle itself is a rather nebulous activity as compared to historical kinetic conflict. The manner in which it is being prosecuted, however, seems to be the way virtually everything from small disagreements to all-out political warfare is conducted in the 21st century.
In what is generally referred to as "the West" (and especially within the United States), such combat encompasses a combination of information warfare, psychological operations, name-calling, and character assassination. These wars are, more often than not, heavily weighted to one-side. They appear to be fought in the most underhanded way possible by an aggressor on an offensive blitz, with the defense struggling to compete within self-contained moral and ethical boundaries, and held back by a myriad of politically correct rules that now bind us, as well as the political expediencies that have become our way of life.
So what, you may be asking, is this battle over our electric infrastructure about? It's about our very survival. The Congressional EMP Commission (2000-2008), the National Academy of Sciences, the U.S. Department of Energy, and the U.S. Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), in reports supported by the U.S. National Laboratories at Los Alamos, Lawrence Livermore, Sandia, and Oak Ridge National Laboratories, concluded that a great geomagnetic storm like the 1859 Carrington Event, and even lesser events like a much smaller one that occurred in 1921, could damage or destroy hundreds of transformers and cause the collapse of the national electric grid for four to ten years, potentially causing millions of Americans to perish from starvation and societal collapse.
The North American Electric Reliability Corporation (NERC) published its own report entitled "2010 Long-Term Reliability Assessment," with findings similar to EMP Commission research. Not long afterward, however, under the leadership and encouragement of its newly elected president and CEO Gerry Cauley, NERC did a 180 degree turnabout, putting together a new report, released in February 2012. Although a geomagnetic disturbance task force (GMDTF) was initiated to provide the substance of this "Reliability Assessment" entitled "Effects of Geomagnetic Disturbances on the Bulk Power System," several task force members (scientists and other experts who were, at some point during the proceedings, relegated to "observer" status) have ascertained that the February 2012 product was based not on task force findings, but on "secret" negotiations with "representatives of electricity generation and transmission companies." (It should be noted that the fact that there were "secret" or "closed meetings" being held-which is against federal law and Congressional intent in establishing the NERC-was revealed by one of the initiators of the substandard research that the NERC was depending on for assessment conclusions.)
Dr. Peter Vincent Pry, one of the original GMD task force members (now labeled an "observer"), stated that the assessment, as published, was based on "junk science"- previously held evidence was ignored; there was no attempt to collect new evidence, let alone analyze it; and the resulting report was apparently an attempt to justify pre-drawn conclusions that ran contrary to virtually every other previous study, to include published research performed In the U.K. and Canada. In essence, the mission of the GMD task force was compromised by NERC management and GMDTF leaders-those who were supposed to be engaged in acts aimed at assuring reliability of the electric grid that sustains us.
Highly-placed sources who wish to remain anonymous out of fear of retribution have reported "unprecedented" pressure by NERC representatives on any who deviate from the new NERC party-line (to include attempts to pressure members of their regulatory oversight organization, the FERC)-the party-line being that barring small periods of downtime (hours or days, vice weeks, months or years), our transformers are safe from the effects of GIC and that our country has little to fear from threats to critical electric infrastructure. Nothing could be further from the truth, as Congressman Trent Franks, Congresswoman Yvette Clarke, and Congressman Roscoe Bartlett have all indicated several times, at various venues. The Congressional EMP Caucus, the Task Force for National and Homeland Security, the EIS Council and the Foundation for Resilient Societies have provided Congress with more than sufficient evidence contradicting the NERC's assertions.
At least two rebuttals (forwarded to members of Congress) of the NERC's newest "Reliability Assessment" seem to have been taken on by NERC leadership as a threat to their own existence, as they have been reported acting in manners unbecoming leadership of any organization, let alone the national representation of a major industry. Again, sources have revealed that the NERC and members acting under associated "professional" organizations, have begun to whitewash vulnerabilities and engage in character assassination of dissenters-to include the scientists who have long-studied the effects of GIC and EMP threats to the electric grid.
Dr. Pry noted that when pressed by the FERC to justify their positions, the NERC has chosen to limply refrain from decisive action, citing a need for "further study." The problem? The studies that have been done are definitive and the consequences of inaction will be catastrophic. The problem has been studied to death. The time for action is NOW.
To be sure, the details of electric power, at least as it pertains to the daily lives of Americans, could be seen as rather mundane. On-demand electricity to the majority has become so reliable as to be taken for granted. Possibly even more boring, are the specifics of power industry operations-few follow the political intrigue associated with industry leadership and federal regulatory bodies. Unfortunately, we, the citizenry, have ignored these internal debates for much too long. If the NERC is determined to keep our country's vulnerabilities intact, the question must be asked - WHY?
Although I concede a profit motive makes sense, it doesn't seem to be the major motivation. The majority of transformers that make up the core of the critical electric infrastructure are old-approaching, if not already having surpassed, their intended lifespans. Manufacturers could only stand to profit enormously from sales of new transformers as well as patches needed to make them less-vulnerable. Additionally, estimates for adding protection devices to the grid generally put the cost to the average rate-payer at less than one dollar per year-in comparison to the fees generally attached to charges for such services as cable TV and cell phone usage, this would be "transparent to the user."
The desire to maintain autonomy from federal regulatory systems makes slightly more sense, considering the damage that has been done historically by over-regulation; but the FERC has been relatively light-handed with the NERC to this point. In a vast multitude of other cases (e.g. as related to transportation, communication, public safety, etc.), national security needs have outweighed industry desire for autonomy. In the context of a natural or nuclear electromagnetic pulse event, the estimated loss of life alone resulting from a lack of action by industry to protect critical electric infrastructure (as reported by the Congressional EMP Commission), would seem to indicate a need for federal intervention to ensure mitigation.
So - are we seeing the manifestations of "mob rule" ala the Teamsters problem of the 1950s, or is there a more nefarious agenda by NERC leadership to keep our country's vulnerabilities as they are? More to the point, will citizens settle for "status quo" knowing that one high-altitude nuclear attack, or one great geomagnetic storm of sufficient strength could result in a continental-wide black-out potentially lasting 4-10 years, which would virtually guarantee the deaths of over 2/3rds of our population? Hundreds of millions would die due to greed, simple recalcitrance - or because of an alternative agenda.
A conference is to be held at FERC Headquarters on Monday, April 30th to discuss Geomagnetic Disturbances to the Bulk-Power System and reliability issues. Both sides of this battle will be heard from. Obviously this isn't the end of the story-the battle will continue as long as the vulnerabilities exist. I urge readers to stand up for the truth as if your lives depended on it-because I can assure you, your lives do depend on exposing these deceptions and the deceivers who seem intent on risking the very survival of our country as a nation.
It's time to move on to Schopenhauer's third phase-accepting truth as "self-evident." But in this case we also need to act on the truth that our country's critical electric infrastructure is highly vulnerable, before it becomes "self-evident" that we've waited too long.
Family Security Matters Contributing Editor Cynthia E. Ayers is currently Director of the Task Force on National and Homeland Security. Prior to accepting the Task Force position, she served as Vice President of EMPact Amercia, having retired from the National Security Agency after over 38 years of federal service-a period that included 8 years at the U.S. Army War College's Center for Strategic Leadership.