Biden administration’s water cybersecurity plan temporarily stalled

By Clark Mindock

(Reuters) – A U.S. appeals court on Wednesday temporarily blocked a Biden administration plan to improve the cybersecurity of public water systems, after Republican-led states complained it would impose onerous costs to small rural water providers.

The 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in St. Louis has issued a stay temporarily suspending the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) cybersecurity plan while a legal challenge filed by prosecutors generals of the states of Missouri, Arkansas and Iowa is taking its course.

The EPA’s plan announced March 3, which it called “guidance,” meaning it was not binding, recommended a series of new rules placing more responsibility for securing water facilities. at the state level. The agency released the plan following several high-profile hacking incidents in recent years.

Arkansas Attorney General Tim Griffin said in a statement Wednesday that he was satisfied with the court’s decision and believed the EPA lacked the power to impose the rules.

A spokesperson for the National Rural Water Association, which intervened in the lawsuit challenging the EPA plan alongside the American Water Works Association, said in a statement that it supports enhanced cybersecurity, but that the EPA’s plan would be too cumbersome for small water systems.

The EPA did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Security experts say the water sector has long been considered vulnerable to cyberattacks, which could cause shortages or dangerously increase the concentration of chemicals normally used to treat drinking water.

In March 2019, a fired employee of a Kansas-based water utility used his old computer credentials to take systems offline remotely, a Biden administration official said when announcing the plan.

The Republican-led states filed their lawsuit in April, saying the EPA lacks the authority to impose cybersecurity assessment responsibilities on states and local water providers.

The lawsuit said the memo creates costly legal obligations, even though the EPA referred to it as mere guidance.

(Reporting by Clark Mindock; Editing by Alexia Garamfalvi and Bill Berkrot)

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