Frustrated with Washington's inaction, at least 12 states are moving urgently to protect their electric grids from the type of devastating electromagnetic pulse -- either from a solar flare or nuclear attack -- that federal authorities are growing concerned about.
“Let's start insisting that we protect the grid,” said Maine State Rep. Andrea Boland, who recently put her state first on the map of those moving to require power companies to harden their electric lines and transformers from EMP.
“It’s pretty much common sense,” said Boland. “It’s a terrible urgency.”
The effort led by Maine comes a little more than a year after the sun blasted out a massive “coronal mass ejection” that, if directed at earth, could have knocked out East Coast electric grids and GPS systems. It was the latest of several seen in the last decade.
“We just kind of got lucky,” said William Murtagh, of the National Weather Service's space prediction center. “These things are happening quite regularly on the sun.”
When coupled with fears North Korea or Iran might launch an atmospheric nuclear blast that would have the same impact as a sun burst, the potential for disaster, mass chaos and deaths has many in Washington urging action. But since the federal government doesn't have the power to force electric companies to protect the grid, the fight is taking place in states that do have the power.
“The states get it,” said Peter Vincent Pry, a member of the now-defunct congressional EMP Commission.
Former CIA Director R. James Woolsey said that the costs are tiny, maybe 20 cents per home per month. Other estimates are as low as 50 cents a year added to electric bills. But, Woolsey added, power companies don't want to spend money on it.
Besides Maine, Boland and Pry said that the states considering some kind of EMP resolution or law include Alaska, Texas, Oklahoma, New Hampshire, Utah, North Carolina, Florida, Arizona, Washington, New York and Kentucky.
“We’re not sweeping the country yet,” said Pry, “but it’s certainly headed that way.”
Fears of an EMP catastrophe are winning attention also in the nation's top colleges, where experts are growing concerned that the federal government is burying its head in the sand.
Explaining his longer report in an online abstract, for example, James Madison University scholar George H. Baker said, “Simply put, grid failure is an existential threat to national governance and to the survival of the American population. Unfortunately, lawmakers have been slow to comprehend the severity of EMP effects on the grid.”
Paul Bedard, the Washington Examiner's "Washington Secrets" columnist, can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.