California Governor Gavin Newsom condemns
PG&E for “greed and neglect.” People “can’t even access
water or medical supplies.”
But Newsom compelled PG&E to invest billions
in “green energy” to combat climate change—short-changing
public safety. Nor has Newsom’s California Public Utilities
Commission required PG&E to protect the grid.
A San Jose Mercury News editorial rightly
protests: “Northern California is not a third world
country. It’s unacceptable that the region is being forced
to endure this level of disruption as the long-term strategy
for dealing with the threat of wildfires.”
PG&E has barricaded its San Francisco
headquarters against angry customers.
PG&E deserves condemnation, not only for the
present crisis, but for a long history of neglecting basic
Six years ago, a 2013 report to the
California Public Utilities Commission warned: “Several
aspects of the PG&E distribution system present significant
In 2015, PG&E powerlines caused a fire in
Butte that killed two.
In 2017, a PG&E powerline tower built in the
1920s, long past safe service life, collapsed causing a
wildfire that destroyed 5,000 homes in Santa Rosa and killed
In 2018, PG&E powerlines started a huge
wildfire that consumed the town of Paradise and killed 85.
PG&E’s response to its worsening record of
public safety? Instead of stopping mismanagement and
launching a crash program to fix grid infrastructure, PG&E
filed for bankruptcy to escape liability for billions of
dollars in damages inflicted on Californians.
If PG&E, one of the largest electric
utilities in the United States, cannot be trusted
competently to perform such basic and simple public safety
precautions as vegetation management and powerline
protection, clearly they are incompetent to protect the grid
from more complex and much bigger threats that could kill
millions—like EMP and cyber warfare.
The history of PG&E neglect of public safety
and the current crisis in California happened despite PG&E
being regulated by the U.S. Federal Energy Regulatory
Commission and North American Electric Reliability
Corporation, the latter basically an industry lobby funded
The EMP Commission Chairman’s Report (2017)
warns: “The current largely self-regulatory structure of the
U.S. Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), the North
American Electric Reliability Corporation (NERC), and the
electric power industry was not designed to address U.S.
survival under nuclear EMP or other hostile attack. The
Commission assesses that the existing regulatory framework
for safeguarding the security and reliability of the
electric power grid, which is based upon a partnership
between the U.S. FERC and the private NERC representing the
utilities, is not able to protect the U.S. from hostile
Unwisely, the strategy concocted by the
Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and the Department of
Energy (DOE) to protect electric grids and other
life-sustaining critical infrastructures from the
existential threats posed by EMP and cyber warfare relies on
“public-private partnerships” where the U.S. Government is
the junior partner, essentially trusting the expertise and
competence of the utilities.
The EMP Commission Chairman’s Report warns
against this “doomed to fail“ strategy: “Regulatory
inadequacy over the electric power industry for national
security is demonstrated, not only in the failure of
industry to protect the grid, but in lobbying by NERC, EPRI,
EEI and other industry groups to oppose initiatives by
federal and state officials and private citizens to protect
the grid from EMP...”
Electric utilities and their lobbies—NERC,
the Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI), and Edison
Electric Institute (EEI)—lack expertise on EMP and cyber
warfare and are not competent to protect the national grid
from either threat.
Frighteningly, as wildfires and rolling
blackouts roil California, DHS and DOE are out-sourcing
national security to the electric power industry, trusting
the likes of PG&E, NERC, and EPRI to safeguard electric
grids and the American people from a natural (solar) or
manmade EMP catastrophe.
President Trump’s excellent “Executive Order
on Coordinating National Resilience to Electromagnetic
Pulses” (March 26, 2019) deserves better from DOE and DHS.
They should rely on EMP Commission threat assessments and