HomeEnvironment & Climate NewsBiden Suspends Rule Barring the Use of Chinese Equipment for Electrical Grid

Biden Suspends Rule Barring the Use of Chinese Equipment for Electrical Grid

Among the Executive Orders (EO) signed by President Joe Biden on his first day in office was one suspending a 2020 order issued by former President Donald Trump banning the use of bulk-power system electric equipment, such as transformers, from China.

China’s Influence on U.S. Power Supply

A 2014 U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) report states there were six domestic manufacturers of power transformers in the United States. These U.S. manufacturers provide approximately 40 percent of the power transformers and bulk equipment used by the nation’s utilities and grid operators.

China is the world’s largest supplier of transformers and bulk electrical equipment. Since the beginning of the Obama administration, Chinese manufacturers had become the largest single source of imported bulk electrical equipment, the DOE report said. Records show domestic utilities imported more than 200 Chinese transformers for use in the United States between 2009 and 2019. The DOE report noted U.S. utilities used no Chinese-made bulk electrical equipment before 2009.

The report warned bulk power equipment from economic and geopolitical competitors can be embedded with software and hardware open to being accessed remotely, potentially allowing America’s enemies, competitors, or terrorists to commit cyberattacks, disrupting electricity generation and distribution regionally and nationally.

Order Issued to Protect National Security

Saying he was concerned America’s electric power system had become vulnerable to cyberattacks from foreign nations and their agents, on May 1, 2020, Trump issued an EO banning the use of transformers and other electric grid equipment manufactured in China or other nations with interests that might not align with those of the United States.

Trump’s order “prohibited any acquisition, importation, transfer, or installation of bulk power system electric equipment by any person or with respect to any property to which a foreign country or a national thereof has any interest, that poses an undue risk to the bulk power system, the security or resiliency of U.S. critical infrastructure or the U.S. economy, or U.S. national security or the security and safety of U.S. persons.”

Trump’s EO also directed the DOE to identify existing critical bulk power system electric equipment that would have run afoul of the order had it been in place at the time it was purchased and “develop recommendations to identify, isolate, monitor, or replace this equipment as appropriate.”

In response to Trump’s directive, DOE Secretary Dan Brouillette issued on December 17 2020 a “prohibition order designed to reduce the risks that entities associated with the People’s Republic of China pose to the Nation’s Bulk Power System.” The DOE order took effect on January 16, 2021.

“The order prohibits utilities that supply critical defense facilities (CDF) from procuring from the People’s Republic of China, specific bulk power electric equipment that poses an undue risk to the bulk power system, the security or resilience of critical infrastructure, the economy, national security, or safety and security of Americans,” Briouillette’s order said.

Biden’s EO halts Trump’s EO for 60 days. It is unclear what effect Biden’s EO has on DOE’s December 17 directive, which flowed from Trump’s order, specifically banning the use of Chinese-made equipment for power systems that supply defense facilities.

Biden’s EO directs his secretary of energy and the director of the Office of Management and Budget to determine whether Trump’s EO should be replaced.

‘Not Concerned About Potential Threats’

Biden’s bulk power equipment executive order potentially makes it easier for enemies of the United States to sabotage or launch a cyberattack against America’s electric power system, concludes an analysis of the order by the Institute for Energy Research (IER).

“For Biden to revoke President Trump’s order means that he is not concerned about potential threats to the U.S. electric grid by China,” said the IER’s report. “It is not clear whether the order signed by Trump’s Secretary of Energy Dan Brouillette prohibiting the importation of Chinese equipment remains in place after Biden suspended Trump’s Executive Order.

“Regardless, for Biden to signal, on his first day in office, that he could be amenable to opening the American electricity grid up to problematic Chinese equipment is very troubling,” the IER analysis states.

H. Sterling Burnett, Ph.D. (hsburnett@heartland.org) is the managing editor of Environment & Climate News.

H. Sterling Burnett
H. Sterling Burnett
H. Sterling Burnett, Ph.D. is the director of The Heartland Institute's Robinson Center on Climate and Environmental Policy and the managing editor of Environment & Climate News.

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