Washington, D.C. Today, the House of Representatives passed the Energy Cybersecurity University Leadership Act, legislation introduced by Congresswoman Deborah Ross (NC-02) and Congressman Mike Carey (OH-15) that will address the rise in cybersecurity threats against energy infrastructure in the United States. Recent incidents, like the ransomware attack on the Colonial Gas Pipeline, an attempted water poisoning at a Florida treatment plant, or the attempted cyberattack on the Port of Houston, are just a few examples of the threats that inspired this bipartisan legislation, which will both bolster the energy sector’s growing workforce and strengthen the United States’ ability to address future cyberattacks. Specifically, the bill will create an Energy Cybersecurity University Leadership Program, which will provide grants and financial assistance to graduate students and postdoctoral researchers studying cybersecurity and energy infrastructure. Congresswoman Ross spoke in support of the legislation on the House floor.

“The United States has witnessed an alarming rise in cybersecurity threats and attacks against our energy infrastructure, including in my home state of North Carolina,” said Congresswoman Ross. “Our constituents rely on dependable energy sources for their lives and their livelihoods, and we cannot afford continued exposure to these types of attacks. That’s why this bipartisan legislation is so critical. From NC State to Shaw, Saint Augustine’s, and Wake Tech, this legislation will better equip our students and researchers in North Carolina and beyond to tackle the evolving cybersecurity threat environment. I thank Congressman Carey for working with me to pass this important legislation.”

“Today’s passage of the Energy Cybersecurity University Leadership Act is a major step toward protecting America’s energy infrastructure from cyberattacks,” said Congressman Carey. “The program created by this legislation will prepare students from Ohio State to NC State and across the country to tackle cybersecurity threats with the potential to cut off the flow of energy to the American people. I’m proud of the bipartisan work Congresswoman Ross and I have accomplished and thank my House colleagues for supporting this important legislation. I urge the Senate to quickly pass this bill to protect America’s energy infrastructure.” 

“As cyber threats continue to rise and impact organizations, bills such as the Energy Cybersecurity University Leadership Act, sponsored by Representatives Ross and Carey provide a tangible pathway to mobilizing resources in combatting these threats,” said Dr. Terry Kidd, Vice President for Strategic Planning, Research, Technology & Innovation at Saint Augustine’s University. “Cyber warfare is here, and Saint Augustine’s University is uniquely positioned with our partnership with IC2, the world’s leading information security certification consortium, to continue our work with industry through incumbent worker training, research, and advanced educational credentialing. We are excited to be a part of this work as we work together to tackle the changing cybersecurity landscape.”

“Technology has become an integral part of modern society,” said Dr. James Brown, Director of the Center for Cybersecurity Education and Research at Shaw University. “With the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, our reliance on technology has grown dramatically. However, the pervasiveness of technology has increased the need for cybersecurity to protect our sensitive and personal information. Unfortunately, there is a significant lack of skilled professionals to address that need, with some 700,000 open cybersecurity positions nationwide. To protect our digital lives and ensure national security, more attention and investment must be paid toward cybersecurity. Shaw University has responded by creating a new computer science concentration in cyber operations to address this.”

"We are all painfully aware of the need for enhanced cybersecurity for our energy infrastructure," said Iqbal Husain, ABB Distinguished Professor in Electrical and Computer Engineering and Executive Director of the FREEDM Systems Center at North Carolina State University. "This bill will grow the talent pipeline for utilities and other energy providers, increase diversity among these highly trained graduates, and produce research that will protect our energy systems." 

“We commend Congressman Carey and Congresswoman Ross for their leadership on this important issue,” said Dr. Grace Wang, Executive Vice President for Research, Innovation and Knowledge at Ohio State University. “This measure will both advance cybersecurity research and expand the energy security workforce. Through Ohio State’s highly interdisciplinary research and innovation activities and academic programs, we stand ready to partner with the federal government and industry to develop advanced training and research programs enabled by this legislation to help the energy sector better prepare for and respond to future threats.”

Many cybersecurity vulnerabilities in the energy sector are only discovered once they have already been exploited in attempted or successful attacks. Compounding the issue, the United States’ energy infrastructure is growing more susceptible to advanced methods of cyberattack as the energy sector integrates more complex technologies. A robust energy security workforce will help the energy sector better prepare for, respond to, and combat this growing threat environment.

The Energy Cybersecurity University Leadership Program addresses these workforce and research needs by creating a grant program at the Department of Energy that:

  • Provides financial assistance for scholarships, fellowships, and R&D projects at colleges and universities to support graduate students studying the convergence of cybersecurity and energy infrastructure
  • Provides students and postdoctoral researchers with traineeship research experiences at the Department of Energy’s National Laboratories and utilities
  • Expands outreach to Historically Black Colleges and Universities, Minority Serving Institutions, and Tribal Colleges and Universities

Additionally, the bill requires that the Secretary of Energy submit a report to Congress on the development and implementation of the program no later than one year after bill enactment.

As a member of the House Science, Space, and Technology Committee, Congresswoman Ross has been a champion of legislation to bolster the nation’s cybersecurity. In October 2021, she introduced legislation with Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) to address ransomware threats. Following the cyber-attack on the Colonial Pipeline last year, Congresswoman Ross led her North Carolina colleagues in calling on House leadership to conduct a full investigation and prioritize policies that would prevent similar attacks.