Sen Jim Risch

U.S. Sen. Jim Risch, R-Idaho, stands for a portrait on the steps of the Idaho Capitol building on May 31.

A bill to bring in national laboratories to study ways to protect the electrical grid from cyberattacks passed the U.S. House on Wednesday.

Sponsored by U.S. Sens. Jim Risch, R-Idaho, and Angus King, a Maine independent who caucuses with the Democrats, the Securing Energy Infrastructure Act would establish a two-year pilot program with the national laboratories to study security vulnerabilities and research and test technology to isolate the most critical systems from cyberattacks, focusing on segments of the energy sector where a cybersecurity incident could result in the most damage. A working group including representatives of federal agencies, the energy industry, national laboratories and public energy agencies would evaluate the recommendations, after which the Secretary of Energy would submit a report to Congress.

The bill passed the Senate earlier this month. On Wednesday the House version of the bill, sponsored by Reps. Dutch Ruppersberger, D-Md. and John Carter, R-Texas, was added as an amendment to the House’s Intelligence Authorization Act, which passed 397-31.

“Protecting our critical infrastructure from potential cyberattacks is of the utmost importance, and the time to act is now,” Risch said in a statement. “I’ve been proud to work with Senator King on this bill to put our national laboratories, including the Idaho National (Laboratory), at the helm of efforts to secure the integrity of our energy infrastructure systems. I applaud the House for advancing this legislation and look forward to seeing it signed into law.”

King said he and Risch have been pushing the legislation for years.

“America is among the most connected nations in the world, which gives us incredible new opportunities — but also unprecedented and dangerous new vulnerabilities,” he said. “We need to improve our defenses, so the electric grid that powers our lives can’t be crippled by a cyber-attack launched from across the globe.”

The bill’s Senate co-sponsors included Mike Crapo, R-Idaho, Susan Collins, R-Maine and Martin Heinrich, D-N.M.

“The threat of a potentially devastating cyber-attack grows greater with each passing day,” Collins said. “It is important that we take commonsense steps now to eliminate vulnerabilities and protect our energy infrastructure from future disruption.”

Reporter Nathan Brown can be reached at 208-542-6757. Follow him on Twitter: @NateBrownNews.