Rep. Christopher Cox

House Committee on Energy & Commerce

Hearing on

Blackout 2003: How Did It Happen and Why?

September 3, 2003

Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

I want to thank you for convening these 2 days of hearings. I hope they will work in tandem with tomorrow’s hearings on the Homeland Security Committee, where we will focus on the vulnerability of our Nation’s power supply and distribution system to deliberate attack as well as the catastrophic secondary effects.

We still don’t know exactly how and why the blackout of 2003 occurred, although today we expect to learn a bit more. I think that we will have to await the conclusion of ongoing investigations before we have answers that will satisfy not just politicians and regulators but also the electrical engineers who are responsible for constructing a system that will work. What we do know and what we have learned as a result of the events of last month is that the denial of electrical service for an extended period of time causes a dangerous ripple effect of death and destruction across virtually all of our Nation’s civic and economic sectors.

In the 21st century, America is more dependent upon electricity than ever before in our Nation’s history. In the computer era, information systems and electronic controls dominate every aspect of our economic life and the public’s health and safety. Lack of power can lead to significant fatalities and wreak tremendous havoc on our economy. This is certainly a desirable outcome to—and hence a goal of—our terrorist enemies as well as an accident that can occur, as we saw last month.

The economic implications of a blackout are thus even greater than they might seem at first glance. It didn’t take even 4 days before the vultures started circling—in this case trial lawyers rather than terrorists. On August 18th the first lawsuit was filed, a class action lawsuit in Ohio on behalf of all persons and entities residing in the United States who lost electrical power during the blackout. We are still investigating the causes of these events, but profiteers are lining up to make sure that they get theirs.

The threat to the Nation is more complex than might appear on the surface. Together, the Energy and Commerce Committee and the Homeland Security Committee must determine accurately how vulnerable our power system is to attack and sustain denial and what steps we can take to reduce that vulnerability and mitigate the potential damage through contingency planning.

We have an extraordinary 2 days, Mr. Chairman, during which we will learn a great deal; and I look forward to moving the energy legislation in this Congress which I strongly believe is connected fundamentally to these issues.

I would merely add to what the chairman mentioned a moment ago. That is, that all of our electric power systems, save for nuclear and hydro, operate on sources of energy that are not included in the electricity title of the energy legislation; and we have got to take a look at the entire picture. Simply put, in the 21st century we are using so much power for computers and new electric technology that the system that we have built is going to break down unless we invest.

Thank you, Mr. Chairman.


Serial No. 108–54

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