The Biden administration swung aggressively into action after a primary gasoline pipeline fell prey to a cyberattack — understanding that the situation posed a possible series of political and economic risks.
The pipeline shutdown was an all-hands-on-deck situation for a young presidency that has also had to deal with a pandemic, a recession, an influx of unaccompanied children at the U.S.-Mexico border, a troop withdrawal from Afghanistan and high-stakes showdowns globally that carry the specter of war.
The administration devoted the first half of the week to showcasing all the steps it was taking to get gas back to service stations in affected areas. It scrambled into action after ransom-seeking hackers on Friday shut down the pipeline, which delivers about 45% of the East Coast’s gas. The shutdown caused a supply crunch and spiking prices — all of which the administration was preparing to address.
President Joe Biden was scheduled to deliver remarks on the pipeline incident Thursday morning, more evidence of his administration’s awareness of the political perils associated with the shutdown and of White House efforts to turn the situation into a new reason to argue for his infrastructure package.
Hours before the Colonial Pipeline was restarted on Wednesday, Biden had signaled that there were reasons for optimism.
The president followed with an executive order to improve cybersecurity. Biden’s team seized on the shutdown as an argument for approving the president’s $2.3 trillion infrastructure package.
Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg said the cyberattack was a reminder that infrastructure is a national security issue and investments for greater resilience are needed.
“This is not an extra, this is not a luxury, this is not an option,” Buttigieg said. “This has to be core to how we secure critical infrastructure.”
The Department of Homeland Security issued a temporary waiver of a federal law overseeing maritime commerce to an individual company, not identified by the government, to allow the transportation of additional gas and jet fuel between Gulf Coast and East Coast ports.
The Transportation Department was surveying how many vessels could carry fossil fuels to the Gulf of Mexico and Eastern Seaboard to provide gasoline. Waivers were issued to expand the hours that fuel can be transported by roadways. The Environmental Protection Agency issued waivers on gas blends and other regulations to ease any supply challenges.
The technology firm Gasbuddy.com found that 28% of stations were out of fuel in North Carolina. In Georgia, South Carolina and Virginia, more than 16% of stations were without gas.
The sudden supply crunch after last week’s hack showed the challenges that can pop up for a White House that must constantly respond to world events.
Republican lawmakers were quick to criticize the administration for previously canceling plans to construct the Keystone XL oil pipeline from Canada. Biden had canceled its permit over risks of spills and worries that climate change would worsen by burning the oil sands crude that would have flowed through the pipeline.