What Will Protect Ohio’s Critical Infrastructure?

I’m proud to have been a member of the U.S. military stationed in Baghdad during 2005 as part of a team that swept the dangerous streets of the city to clear them of improvised explosive devices. During my tour of duty, the country engaged in a democratic process to create and then assemble under a new constitution. The Iraqi men and women that I saw every day were simply looking for their voices to be heard and their votes to be counted. I was reminded during that time of how lucky we are as Americans to have rights that guarantee our freedom and how important it is that we fight to keep them when they are threatened. That is why I’m so troubled by Senate Bill 33—which recently passed in the Ohio Senate. This bill serves to threaten and intimidate Ohioans from exercising some of our fundamental rights.

Under the guise of protecting critical infrastructure, this bill stretches the definition of criminal activity beyond recognition, potentially making it illegal, for example, for a neighbor to post a flier on a telephone pole or for a labor union to picket a job site. Based on model legislation that the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) airdropped in states across the country, the bill would compromise the rights of everyday Ohioans to protect the interests of big companies. It’s hard to imagine that’s what our founders had in mind when they wrote the First Amendment.

Ohio’s Critical Infrastructure Does Need Protection

Proponents of Senate Bill 33 say it is needed to protect critical energy infrastructure in our state. But the truth is, the bill would do nothing to address the real threats to energy resilience that we face.

Take our military facilities for example. For years, U.S. military leaders have stressed the importance of improving energy security and resilience to ensure mission capability. DoD relies on the commercial electric grid and has identified the increasing threat that cyber-attacks and extreme weather place on military missions. Ohio’s military bases face these same threats.

In 2017, then-Speaker Rosenberger commissioned the Ohio Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) and Military Affairs Task Force to study the state’s military installations and other federal facilities like NASA Glenn. The goal of the Task Force was to make recommendations on how to preserve those critical facilities and best position Ohio to acquire new economic development opportunities. One of their key recommendations was to engage with the private sector and pursue opportunities for advanced energy solutions at military installations.

Governor DeWine also recently appointed retired Air Force Colonel Joseph Zeis to a cabinet-level military liaison position aimed at protecting and positioning Ohio’s critical military installations and assets. If we want to protect critical infrastructure in this state, pushing advanced energy projects to increase their resilience is where our focus should be. In fact, Governor DeWine correctly identified this concern in creating this new position.

What are our critical infrastructure stewards telling us?

The U.S. Department of Energy has warned that cyber-attacks pose an “imminent danger” to the grid and could undermine U.S. lifeline networks, critical defense infrastructure, and much of the economy and endanger the health and safety of millions of citizens.

Military leaders have warned much the same. In fact, Assistant Secretary of Defense Robert McMahon has said that we must anticipate and mitigate potential attacks against our critical defense, government, and economic infrastructure. Maintaining secure access to energy resources is essential to DoD mission execution. Efforts to protect critical infrastructure should address real threats like cyber-attacks and extreme weather events brought on by climate change and focus on solutions that actually improve the energy security and resiliency of our critical infrastructure and thereby protect Ohioans.

It’s not just our military bases either. Resilience is increasingly a consideration for our healthcare industry as well. A recent survey of hospitals found that two-thirds had experienced at least one power outage in the past three years. Not surprisingly, hospitals say that building resilient facilities to deal with events like power outages, fires, and storms was a priority. In fact, nearly 90 percent of them said they already consider resilience when designing and building new spaces. Wright Patterson Air Force Base Medical Center recently became Energy Star Certified; the first military base hospital in the continental U.S. to become certified as a top 25 percent energy performer in energy efficiency.

We know what to do, we just need to refocus and set purposeful policy goals in Ohio.

The real threats to grid security and critical infrastructure are clear and Senate Bill 33 would do nothing to help mitigate them. Nor would it help Ohio’s energy economy, lower customer energy bills or improve the resilience of our critical infrastructure. Those are where our focus should be.

About the Authors

Daniel Sawmiller

Ohio Energy Policy Director, Climate & Clean Energy Program

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