As unprecedented winter weather causes power outages and water shortages across Texas, many have questioned the efficiency of the United States’ power grid system.
The Institute for Energy Research (IER) wrote a piece on February 4 claiming that Biden rescinded Trump’s order banning Chinese involvement in the U.S. power grid.
“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,” the IER said. “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.”
On May 1, 2020, Trump issued Executive Order 13920 to declare a national emergency regarding the security of the United States’ bulk-power system. In the Securing the United States Bulk-Power System order, Trump said he found that “foreign adversaries are increasingly creating and exploiting vulnerabilities in the United States bulk-power system, which provides the electricity that supports our national defense, vital emergency services, critical infrastructure, economy, and way of life.”
He said those seeking to “commit malicious acts against the United States and its people” could pose a significant risk to the economy, human health and safety and national defense.
Trump prohibited any “acquisition, importation, transfer, or installation of any bulk-power system electric equipment” as it “constitutes an unusual and extraordinary threat to the national security, foreign policy, and economy of the United States.”
The order defines bulk-power systems as facilities and control systems necessary for operating an interconnected electric energy transmission network and electric energy from generation facilities needed to maintain transmission reliability, including transmission lines rated at 69,000 volts (69 kV) or more, but not facilities used in the local distribution of electric energy.
There is no explicit mention of a certain foreign adversary that poses a specific threat to the U.S. bulk-power system. The order defines foreign adversary as “any foreign government or foreign non-government person engaged in a long-term pattern or serious instances of conduct significantly adverse to the national security of the United States or its allies or the security and safety of United States persons.”
While there was no direct reference to China, many assume Trump’s order was addressing the United States’ increasing reliance on Chinese transformers.
According to a 2014 report from the Department of Energy (DOE), there were six domestic manufacturers of power transformers in the United States, whereas more than 30 power transformer manufacturers existed in China.
“There have been over 200 Chinese transformers that have come into the U.S. energy sector in the last 10 years,” Charles Durant, deputy director of counterintelligence at the DOE, said in 2019. “Before that, there were zero.”
In December 2020, Brouillette invoked the authority granted to him by Trump’s executive order to issue the “Prohibition Order Securing Critical Defense Facilities.”
According to a DOE press release, the order prohibited utilities that supply critical defense facilities (CDF) from procuring from the People’s Republic of China, specific BPS electric equipment that poses an undue risk to the BPS, the security or resilience of critical infrastructure, the economy, national security, or safety and security of Americans. The order was to be effective January 16, 2021.
In January, Biden issued a slew of executive orders that rolled back Trump policies. The Protecting Public Health and the Environment and Restoring Science To Tackle the Climate Crisis order instructed executive departments and agencies to review federal regulations and actions under the Trump administration to ensure they align with Biden’s goals to address climate change, public health and environmental justice.
Biden’s order includes a 90-day suspension on Trump’s Executive Order 13920. He directs the secretary of energy and the director of the Office of Management and Budget (OBM) to review Trump’s order and determine whether to recommend that a replacement order be issued. This was the case with several Trump-era policies concerning energy, power and the environment.
Trump’s order is temporarily suspended, not rescinded or revoked.
The DOE said the 90-day suspension allows the secretary of energy and the director of the OMB “to take stock of the breadth and scope of implementation actions underway, and jointly consider whether to recommend that a replacement order be issued. During that period, the Department’s engagements with utilities on energy security issues will continue, and our commitment to mitigating threats affecting critical defense facilities and the electric sector remains unchanged.”
Additionally, because the Prohibition Order Securing Critical Defense Facilities was predicated on the authorities delegated to the secretary of energy in Trump’s order, the DOE said the order is suspended as long as Executive Order 19320 is suspended.
Biden did not rescind Trump’s order to prohibit the use of foreign equipment in the U.S. bulk-system power grid or the 2020 order from Brouillette that directly addresses China.
Biden’s executive order places a temporary suspension of these orders to allow the new energy secretary to review the policy and determine if a replacement order should be issued.