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WASHINGTON – The congressman who first brought the potentially catastrophic effects of an electromagnetic pulse event to the nation’s attention is now under fire from the electric power industry that has fought voluntary efforts to protect the national grid with hardened transformers.
Rep. Roscoe Bartlett, R-Md., is fighting for re-election against the influences of the powerful electric power industry lobby.
Bartlett recently won an initial victory with the U.S. Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, or FERC, which agreed with him on Oct. 18 that the electric power industry must be required to submit a plan to protect the national power grid from a catastrophic blackout that could be inflicted by a solar super storm.
The victory also comes at a time when the U.S. East coast is experiencing a “perfect storm”– this time on land – that could affect the lives of 60 million people in terms of electrical outages, floods and the massive destruction of property.
The FERC order now is subject to a comment period which will take debate over the order well into next year, when both the National Aeronautic and Space Administration and the National Academy of Sciences say solar storms that have been bombarding Earth will reach their highest intensity.
Bartlett is up against the North American Electric Reliability Corporation, or NERC, which is supposed to be responsible for protecting the electric power grid but has mounted a well-funded lobby to oppose any new government regulation of the electric power industry.
Earlier this year, the NERC published a controversial report denying the threat from a solar super storm, claiming that even the most powerful such storm – similar to the 1859 Carrington Event – could cause a blackout lasting only hours or days, not months or years.
NERC further asserted that if another Carrington Event happened today, it would not be a national catastrophe – only an inconvenience.
However, the NERC is alone in such a judgment that a solar super storm would not be a potentially catastrophic event.
A commission established by Congress to examine the effects of an electromagnetic event from a solar super storm or from the explosion of a high-altitude nuclear explosion was first established by Bartlett with the introduction of legislation in the Fiscal Year 2001 National Defense Authorization Act.
The EMP Commission, formally known as the “Commission to Assess the Threat to the United States from Electromagnetic Pulse (EMP) Attack,” issued a final report in 2008 that underscored Bartlett’s concerns.
It concluded that a solar super storm could inflict catastrophic damage on the U.S. national grid system, equivalent to the detonation of a very powerful nuclear weapon burst at high altitude over the center of the nation.
Similarly, an independent study by the National Academy of Sciences agreed, warning, among other things, that if a solar geometric disturbance like the 1921 Railroad Storm which was only one-tenth as powerful as the 1859 Carrington Event were to occur today, the U.S. would be plunged into a national blackout lasting from four to 10 years.
These conclusions were further reinforced by other independent studies of the U.S. Department of Energy – even by the NERC in 2010 – by the FERC and the British Parliament.
All concluded that a nuclear or natural EMP event would create an unprecedented catastrophe affecting the interconnected critical infrastructures on which society depends.
Indeed, the EMP Commission has warned that, given the current state of unpreparedness, a nuclear EMP attack or a solar super storm like the 1859 Carrington Event today within a year after the event would affect two-thirds of the nation’s 300 million Americans through starvation, disease, death and societal collapse.
At an FERC hearing on April 30, independent experts condemned as “junk science” the 2012 NERC Report. Analysts who served as observers on NERC’s own GMD Task Force that drafted the 2012 NERC Report condemned its findings.
They said the final NERC report failed to follow basic scientific rules for discovery and transparency and for being drafted in secret by industry employees with no expertise in EMP or solar storms.
In addition, they said that the NERC report had excluded evidence including photographs of melted transformers that proved solar storms are a potentially catastrophic threat.
In 2010, the NERC had issued a report that agreed with the scientific consensus that solar super storms are a potentially catastrophic threat.
“Some wonder if the difference between the 2010 and 2012 NERC reports is the appointment of a new NERC chief executive officer, Gerry Cauley, who has been vociferous, including in testimony to the Senate, that the grid is already protected or can quickly recover from any solar geo-storm,” said Dr. Peter Vincent Pry, executive director of the Task Force on National and Homeland Security.
Pry also served on the staffs of the EMP Commission, the House Armed Services Committee and the Central Intelligence Agency.
“FERC’s April order to NERC to devise a plan to protect the national grid from solar geomagnetic disturbances, which would also provide some protection against nuclear EMP, clearly vindicates NERC’s many expert critics and Congressman Roscoe Bartlett who is himself a scientist,” Pry said.
R. James Woolsey, former director of the Central Intelligence Agency, has compared Bartlett to Rep. Carl Vinson, who was chairman of the House Armed Services Committee before World War II. Vinson compelled a reluctant U.S. Navy to build aircraft carriers, foreseeing that these vessels would be decisive in winning future wars.
Dr. William Graham, who served as President Reagan’s Science Adviser, chairman of the EMP Commission, and acting administrator of NASA, congratulated Bartlett on his victory in getting the FERC to act.
“FERC’s order to NERC is an historic first step on the road to protecting our electric grid and other critical infrastructures from the catastrophic consequences of a natural or nuclear EMP event,” Graham said.
“Millions of Americans and their children may well owe their lives and future prosperity to the vision, determination, and political courage of Congressman Bartlett in his unrelenting quest to protect our nation from natural and nuclear EMP,” he said.
“Moreover, Bartlett’s leadership advancing security against solar storms proves to the American people that NASA and the scientific community are not merely about ‘pure science’ and are not merely an ornament to our society,” Graham added. “Thanks to Congressman Bartlett, NASA and the sciences will play an increasingly vital role in protecting our civilization from catastrophic threats.”
A new network television drama also recently presented the cataclysmic consequences of an EMP attack, in “Revolution,” which portrays life in the former United States 15 years after an electromagnetic pulse disables all electronics.
In the story, society has collapsed and the country devolved into a collection of mutually hostile self-styled militias, private armies and warring tribes. Former members of the Marine Corps become warlords. Google executives become rifle-toting soldiers. Insurance salesmen transform into militia members.
It shows that basic necessities that Americans take for granted, such as widely available food and clean water, become inaccessible as millions die from starvation, disease or widespread violence.
A coming book, “A Nation Forsaken,” suggests that the show actually may downplay the real threat.