Energy groups urge White House to streamline security bureaucracy

By the OGJ Online Staff

WASHINGTON, DC, Jan. 25 -- Five energy trade associations this week urged White House Homeland Security Director Tom Ridge to give responsibility for energy infrastructure security to one government agency. Several federal agencies now handle the issue.

"We believe one agency should be given primary responsibility for energy infrastructure security. Currently, several agencies are involved in homeland energy security matters, including the Department of Energy, Department of Transportation, Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, and Nuclear Regulatory Commission," wrote the trade associations under the auspices of the Natural Gas Council. The American Gas Association, American Petroleum Institute, Independent Petroleum Association of America, Interstate Natural Gas Association of America, and the Natural Gas Supply Association of America signed the Jan. 22 letter.

"To improve coordination and efficiency, prevent overlap, and ensure that each agency involved in homeland energy infrastructure security has a clear understanding of its responsibilities, we believe one agency should be in charge."

Industry officials said they have no preference which government agency should lead the effort; last fall DOE said it planned to work with all industry segments on the issue (OGJ Online, Oct. 9, 2001). Nevertheless, industry officials are seeking a more specific directive from the White House on which agency should call the shots.

The trade groups also urged Ridge to give industry pre-approved waivers from permitting requirements in situations where facilities are damaged by terrorist activities and the site has been declared a crime scene.

"In such cases, our ability to continue delivering energy depends on quickly and expeditiously replacing our facilities at an alternative site, which can only be done with pre-approved permitting waivers," the letter said.

The group also recommended a review of antitrust laws to ensure that, in the event of terrorist attacks on energy facilities and infrastructure, legal safeguards are in place to allow industry coordination, communication, training, and emergency planning -- including critical inventory.

The group said other security items the White House should consider include reviewing the Freedom of Information Act to see whether some information now available to the general public should be restricted and adopting "common nomenclature" for the many new terms gaining currency in security-related public/private communications, i.e. standards, best practices and procedures, and common definitions for the various alert levels.

Industry also wanted US security officials to set forth guidelines on what infrastructure information can be available via the internet, for example.

Public interest groups meanwhile have said they are skeptical about restricting FOIA in the name of national security. They argued the president already has the authority to safeguard sensitive information.

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