Colonial Pipeline Incident – 12th of May 2021 White House Press Briefing by Press Secretary Jen Psaki, Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg, and Administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Michael Regan

12:12 P.M. EDT

MS. PSAKI:  Hi, everyone.  We have two more special guests for all of you today. 

Secretary Buttigieg has, of course, been here before, so we’re not going to give him a lengthy introduction.  But Administer — Administrator Regan previously served as the Secretary of North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality.  There, he spearheaded the development and implementation of North Carolina’s seminal plan to address climate change and transition the state to a clean energy economy.  And he secured the largest coal ash cleanup in United States history.  Administrator Regan began his career at the Environmental Protection Agency, and is the first African American man and second person of color to lead it.

I will also just note, before we go to them, Secretary Granholm, Secretary Buttigieg, and Secretary Mayorkas will brief the full House and Senate this evening as well.

They’ll take a few questions, but I will turn it over first to Secretary Buttigieg.

SECRETARY BUTTIGIEG:  Thank you, Jen.  Good afternoon.
Let me start just by saying that we know that the cyberattack on the Colonial Pipeline is affecting fuel supply for some Americans.  And throughout the administration, we have been working around the clock to help Colonial return its pipeline back to normal operations quickly, safely, and securely. 

The President has directed us to bring all government resources to bear to help Colonial to resolve this.  And we’re working to assess the impact of the temporary pipeline shutdown on our national fuel supply, while also working to help alleviate any potential shortages when and where they occur. 

I can tell you that I’ve been on the phone multiple times a day with the White House, with fellow Cabinet Secretaries, and other leaders, including Administrator Regan.  We’ll be doing everything that we can to reduce the impact that some Americans could see at local gas stations in some areas until the pipeline is brought back online.

Colonial has announced that they’re working toward full restoration by the end of this week, but we are not taking any chances.  We are doing everything that we can, in the interim, to make it easier to move fuel to the places that need it.

Since Friday, our interagency response group has been examinating [sic] all contingencies, coordinating with Colonial, and working closely across the interagency to help alleviate any potential supply disruptions. 

For our part in Transportation, the Department has been working across our different modes of transportation to help make sure that fuel can get to the communities that need it as safely and as efficiently as possible.  Our Maritime Administration — or “MARAD” — has completed a survey of the availability of vessels that are qualified to carry petroleum under the Jones Act in the Gulf and up the Eastern Seaboard.

The Department of Homeland Security is standing ready to review any requests for a temporary waiver of the Jones Act from companies that demonstrate that there’s not sufficient capacity on Jones-Act-qualified vessels to carry specific shipments of fuel in and around the region.

Our Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration issued an hours-of-service waiver, which provides greater flexibility to drivers transporting gasoline, diesel, jet fuel, and other refined petroleum products to 18 states.

On Monday and Tuesday and into today, several states have issued emergency declarations that allow truckers to carry additional weight on state roads.

Now, the White House and DOT have determined that 10 states can use existing federal major disaster declarations that are currently in place to allow those states to issue permits that allow drivers to temporarily carry additional gasoline that would ordinarily exceed existing weight limits on federal highways in their state. 

Each state has to follow its own procedures to issue these permits, but this decision — determination provides them with the added flexibility to move fuel more efficiently if they need to.

PHMSA, our Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration, is temporarily relaxing enforcement of certain pipeline operator qualification rules to make sure that emergency personnel can manually get — help to get the pipeline back up and running as needed, and are in frequent touch, again, with the pipeline operators about safety. 

In addition to these steps, we are continuing to monitor the situation as it develops so that we can help anywhere that we can.

For our Department, our mandate and our mission revolves around safety.  And so we are working hard to maintain safety, while also providing much-needed temporary flexibility to minimize disruptions to the American people. 

And DOT is in regular contact with state and local governments, and with members of Congress, as well as with retailers and other companies in the sectors that are impacted.  And, of course, we’re in constant contact with our partners across the federal government to coordinate the response. 

So, together, we are working to assess the impact of the shutdown, offer emergency assistance, and, of course, help Colonial return to normal operations.

Our top priority right now is getting the fuel to communities that need it, and we will continue doing everything that we can to meet that goal in the coming days, and we’ll continue to keep everyone apprised.

Importantly, this incident also reminds us that infrastructure is a national security issue.  And the reality is that investing in world-class, modern, and resilient infrastructure has always been central to ensuring our country’s economic security, our national security, and it was — as we’re seeing right now, that includes cybersecurity.

Thank you all.  I’ll turn it over to Administrator Regan.

ADMINISTRATOR REGAN:  Thank you, Secretary Buttigieg.  Jen, it’s good to be here with you today.

You know, as Secretary Buttigieg mentioned, the President has directed a government-wide response to the Colonial Pipeline shutdown.  And at EPA, we’re doing our part to mitigate the impacts that people and communities might be experiencing.

The Clean Air Act allows EPA, in consultation with the Department of Energy, to waive certain fuel requirements to address shortages.  After careful evaluation, EPA and DOE concluded that extreme and unusual fuel supply circumstances exist and that granting short-term waivers is consistent with the public interest.

EPA issued an initial waiver on Tuesday morning and later issued a second, more expansive waiver that covers 12 states and the District of Columbia.  EPA waived certain gasoline requirements, specifically the requirement for low-volatility conventional gasoline, as well as reformulated gasoline.

While the waiver alone will not resolve the supply situation, it will help alleviate supply shortages.  The waiver allows the use of any residential winter gasoline that may exist in the region.  It will also allow butane to be blended into existing fuel stops, increasing the supply of gasoline by up to 5 percent.

EPA granted the waivers to help mitigate the supply shortages of gasoline in the affected areas until normal supply to the region can be restored.  EPA followed an orderly process when assessing and issuing the fuel waiver.  Any such waiver is limited in both geographic scope and in the duration to mitigate any potential impacts to air quality.  At this time, we do not anticipate air quality problems from these limited waivers. 

In assessing the situation and issuing the waivers, EPA has been in close coordination and communication with all of the impacted states.  Our partnerships with the states is key to being able to effectively respond to the developing situation like this one. 

Going forward, we will keep coordinating with our state col- — state colleagues to assess the situation on the ground and to determine whether we can provide any future flexibilities to alleviate impacts for people and communities in these affected areas. 

We understand that there are shortages resulting from the Colonial Pipeline shutdown that cause stress and confusion in people’s lives.  Our response underscores the importance of President Biden’s all-of-government directive, which asked federal agencies to harness our collective expertise and work in sync when urgent matters arise.  This interagency effort is the linchpin to a swift and coordinated response.

And with that, I’ll turn it over to Jen.

MS. PSAKI:  Go ahead.

Q    Thank you so much.  One question for Mr. Regan, one question for Mr. Buttigieg.  Many of your fellow North Carolinians cannot find gasoline right now.  What’s your advice to them about what they should do and what they shouldn’t do until this situation is resolved?

ADMINISTRATOR REGAN:  Yes.  We are in very close coordination with my home state, just like the other 12 states.

I think the folks should follow the advice of the governors and the attorney generals, which — they’re asking folks not to panic, not to hoard gasoline, and to watch for the updates that are coming from the federal government.  We have some really good coordinated efforts at the federal, state, and local levels, and we’re working very hard to alleviate these circumstances.

Q    And then, Secretary Buttigieg, you mentioned that this situation shows the importance of world-class infrastructure.  What could have been done or what should be done to prevent something like this from happening?

SECRETARY BUTTIGIEG:  Well, this is part of what we have in mind when we talk about resilience.  We need to make sure our infrastructure is resilient to climate security issues caused by the increased frequency and severity of weather events.  But we also need to be sure that we are resilient in the face of cyber threats, and certainly in the kinds of things that the American Jobs Plan will be funding and supporting. 

I think part of the expectation for local authorities or states or other bodies seeking to get funding is that there be robust cybersecurity resilience and planning written into that.  This is not an extra.  This is not a luxury.  This is not an option.  This has to be core to how we secure our critical infrastructure and that includes infrastructure that is not owned and operated by the federal government.  We’re being reminded that private companies, and often local authorities, own and operate so many of the critically important utilities and other infrastructure we count on.

MS. PSAKI:  Peter.

Q    Secretary Buttigieg, does the fact that this run — one ransomware attack could take down roughly 45 percent of the East Coast’s fuel supply mean that we should be building additional pipelines going forward?

SECRETARY BUTTIGIEG:  Well, in this case, this was an issue about how a cyberattack impacted a pipeline that’s there.  I’m not sure it really speaks to the number or quantity of pipelines or their throughput.

I do think it reminds us that we need to make sure that we have the most resilient and flexible infrastructure for the future, especially when it comes to something like energy.  We’ve now had, you could argue, two major wake-up call experiences — one in Texas, and now one here — each with a different cause, but both reminding us about the work that we have to do as a country.

MS. PSAKI:  Jeff. 

Q    Mr. Secretary, Secretary Granholm, yesterday, said that she expected this issue to be resolved by the end of the week, more or less.  Is that still your expectation?  And —


Q    Go ahead.

SECRETARY BUTTIGIEG:  I’ll defer to announcements from the company on their process.  Again, PHMSA is in touch with them to review any plans that they have. 

I would emphasize that there is a lot that is involved in getting a pipeline up and running again.  And so there — there’s the announcement, then there’s the actual process, and then some time for that to be fully up and running — which is one of the reasons why we’re not wasting any time and haven’t been since — even over the weekend — in taking the steps that we need to mitigate any shortages, even things that could happen while the pipeline is getting fully online, but before that’s completely taking place.

Q    And just to follow up for you — perhaps the both of you: You described the permits and the waivers to allow other ways of getting fuel to these affected areas of the country.  Is that working?  Is that fuel arriving?

SECRETARY BUTTIGIEG:  We’ve gotten indications and feedback that the hours-of-service waiver has had an impact, and we expect that the wa- — waivers will as well.  But obviously, they’re very new, and so I will be closely looking for feedback both from companies and from states on how that’s going.

MS. PSAKI:  (Inaudible) anything you want to add?

ADMINISTRATOR REGAN:  Well, I will add that these waivers are working.  We’ve seen, you know, an exceptional response from all of our states who are very appreciative of these waivers.  It does expand the fuel supply.  It allows for fuels to be moved around more freely in the region.  And it does relieve some of that tension. 

And so we’ll continue to work closely with our states and our partners to ensure that we are taking all of the actions that we can to alleviate some of these situations. 

MS. PSAKI:  Mary. 

Q    Mr. Secretary, we now see gas above $3 a gallon for the first time in seven years.  Bottom line: What’s your message to Americans who are worried about how this is going to impact their wallet?  How long do you think this is going to last?  And do you think prices are going to go up even further?

SECRETARY BUTTIGIEG:  Well, my message is that we understand these concerns; that we’ve seen that, in a lot of the impacted geographies, that this is a real issue.  And that’s one of the reasons why we’ve been working with every lever of government that’s available — and not the federal government as an island, but interacting with states and with companies to address this. 

So, you know, I can’t speak to long-term energy markets.  Obviously this is a very specific and acute issue, but we recognize the concern that’s out there, and that’s why we haven’t wasted any time to get into action, and it’s why the President has directed us to be really thorough in examining all of our different authorities and all the different pieces of our respective agencies to be helpful.

MS. PSAKI:  Jen.

Q    The administration has been saying that you’re willing to consider Jones Act waivers.  Have any requests been filed?  And since the Maritime Administration finished its survey, what did it determine about how many Jones-Act-compliant ships are truly available right now — (inaudible) contract near the Gulf, et cetera — that could help?

SECRETARY BUTTIGIEG:  So I can’t speak to any specific waiver requests going on right now.  But what I’ll say is that, you know, that this — MARAD has acted very quickly to provide what is essentially one of two parts for this determination to happen.  One is the analysis that they do.  And then, the other part is, of course, for Homeland Security to pick it up and run with it.  And we’ll continue making sure that they get any information they need to be able to turn it around quickly.

The level of analysis that’s already been done — my understanding is, previously, that’s taken a couple of days, and MARAD was able to do it in a matter of hours.  So they’re moving quickly, and bottom line is: Stand at the ready to very expeditiously process what comes in.

MS. PSAKI:  Go ahead.

Q    Are you confident that another attack on the pipeline can’t happen imminently?  Has the company told you anything about that — about steps they’ve taken in the short term on that?

MS. PSAKI:  We can talk about this.  I mean, they’re speaking to their specific programs, but I will just say that we’re probably not going to get into details about the company’s own preparations.  We’ve talked about the fact that this was a ransomware attack, but this is — the — these threats have been out there for some time, and it’s certainly a reminder to this company and others to continue to harden their cybersecurity.  But we’ll let them speak to their other preparations. 

Go ahead, Steven.

Q    Thank you.  Secretary Buttigieg, this is Wednesday today.  We’re talking about potentially a weekend restoration, but things are getting really crazy out there.  The Consumer Product Safety Commission is warning people not to fill up plastic bags with gasoline.  One in ten gas stations in D.C. is out of gas, and the figures are far higher in the South.  Is the Biden administration having any preliminary discussions about potentially taking over the pipeline to restore — restore the flow if the company is unable to do it themselves?

SECRETARY BUTTIGIEG:  So, I’ve not heard anything along those lines.  We are partnering with the company to make sure that — on everything from the flexibilities we talked about to technical support and advice, that they’re getting the help they need.  And they have been able, through Line 4 and ancillary lines, to move some product.  Although again, obviously waiting for determination on fully reopening. 

I will say that this is a time to be sensible and to be safe.  Of course, we understand the concern in the areas where people are encountering temporary supply disruptions, but hoarding does not make things better.  And under no circumstances should gasoline ever be put into anything but a vehicle directly or an approved container.  And that, of course, remains true no matter what else is going on. 

MS. PSAKI:  Thank you, Secretary — unless you want to — we’ll take one more. 

Go ahead.

Q    Thank you, based on what you know right now, do you anticipate having to extend the duration or expand the scope of the fuel waivers further?

ADMINISTRATOR REGAN:  Well, we’re in very close coordination with each individual state.  They all have different needs.  We’ll continue to assess that.  And we do have the authority, if needed, to extend or issue a new waiver beyond the 20 days that we have already issued.

Q    Are there any travel announcements for either of you?  Or are either of you going to any particular region to address these in person that you’re able to update us on, or none at this time?

ADMINISTRATOR REGAN:  No.  I don’t have any travel announcements at this time. 

SECRETARY BUTTIGIEG:  No news for you, no.

Q    Okay.  Thank you.

MS. PSAKI:  Thank you both.


MS. PSAKI:  Thank you so much for joining us.  Appreciate it.

Okay.  All right, I have another, kind of, hard out here at one o’clock.  Sorry, lots going on, but we will get to as many questions as we can. 

I do have a couple of additional details of outreach from the White House to governors I just wanted to convey to all of you.  Our White House Director of Intergovernmental Affairs, Julie Rodriguez, has been in contact with a range of state and local leaders to discuss the administration’s response, obviously as have officials from a range of agencies.

In separate calls with chiefs of staff for Govern- — for Gov- — from Governor Hogan of Maryland; Governor Northam of Virginia; Governor Wolf of Pennsylvania; Washington, D.C., Mayor Bowser; and Nashville, Tennessee, Mayor Cooper, Julie had productive conversations outlining the actions we have taken to address the supply challenges, including, of course, EPA’s waivers expanding gasoline supply.  We — in each of these conversations, she welcomed feedback, encouraged close coordination. 

I would also convey to you that Secretary Granholm, who was here just yesterday, also hosted a conference call yesterday with the governors of the 14 states impacted by the Colonial Pipeline as a part of our ongoing effort to remain closely engaged with state and local leaders. 

Q    We heard Secretary Buttigieg just mention the desire to include more funding for cybersecurity —

MS. PSAKI:  Yeah.

Q    — in the American Jobs Plan.  Why wasn’t that included in the President’s initial plan?  And is it a must-do for you now? 

MS. PSAKI:  Well, I think what he’s really talking — what the Secretary was talking about is how the grant funding is determined and what will be required for that grant funding.  And that’s part of the process, as you know, as these negotiations and conversations are havening — are happening with Capitol Hill.

So, you know, I think, at this point, it will include, as the discussions continue, tying specific grants to recipients’ implementation of cybersecurity goals using tax credits to finance needed cybersecurity improvements. 

But I think it’s clear that cybersecurity — ensuring private-sector companies are hardening their cy- — their cybersecurity, ensuring it’s an across-the-government effort — is a priority to the President.  And this will be linked now to our proposal for how specific grants should be distributed. 

Q    And we have seen a bit of a shift in tone out of the White House in the last 24 hours.  Yesterday, we were told: There aren’t supply shortages; it’s a supply crunch that will be short-lived.  Now you all are describing it as supply shortages.  Is the impact of this hack more than you anticipated?

MS. PSAKI:  Well, I would say: On Monday, we said — on Monday afternoon, so 48 hours ago, we said, “At this moment, there is not a supply shortage.”  That was accurate at this moment.  We also said that we are continuing to monitor very closely what the impact will be. 

And one of the reasons that we acted as quickly as we did — convening interagency calls through the weekend; determining what levers could be used very quickly and rapidly, according to historic standards, to help put in place contingency plans to ensure we reduce the impact on the American people — is because we had to anticipate there could be a range of impacts. 

We could not predict when the company would be able to come back online.  They obviously need to make those determinations themselves.  So, our role is not to determine that on their behalf; it’s to make preparations to help reduce the impact on the American public.

Q    And this obviously raises concerns not just about future attacks on pipelines, but other aspects of the electric grid, water systems, the like.  Can Americans trust that the government can prevent future attacks going forward? 

MS. PSAKI:  Well, I would first note this is a attack on a private-sector company.  And as I noted a little bit earlier when — I’m not even sure you could hear me — but, you know, this was an attack using ransomware.  This ransomware has been out there for some time.  Deputy — Secretary Mayorkas, when he was Deputy Secretary, talked about, when he was here just two days ago, the fact that we were warning about the need to harden — for companies to put in place cybersecurity protections back several years ago.  And that’s something we will redouble our efforts on.

At the same time, we have — since this President took office, we have also redoubled our efforts on public-private-sector partnerships and efforts to work together on not just best practices, but ensuring we are protecting exactly the systems that the American people rely on.  As you noted, some of those are federal entities, some of them are private-sector entities.  But that has been our objective from the very beginning, and it — this is a reminder of how important that is. 

Q    So what kind of steps can you do to try and encourage private companies, private entities?  Are there tighter restrictions you can put on their cybersecurity to ensure that these kinds of attacks don’t happen going forward? 

MS. PSAKI:  Well, there is an element of any company seeing what has just happened over the last several days being a reminder of how important those steps are, and that is out of our hands.  That is probably — thanks to the reporting of all of you. 

But I would say that one of the reasons that we have stood up — under Anne Neuberger, who was just here a couple of days ago — and elevated a public-private coordinating apparatus or effort to work with the private sector is because we want to ensure that well-intentioned companies understand what they need to put in place and understand the risks that they’re facing. 

Because we know, as this is an example of, that it won’t just impact that company, that it can impact — depending on the entity — the American public. 

Go ahead.

Q    We heard from — I want to ask you about ransomware.  We heard from Buttigieg and from the Administrator of the EPA just moments ago.  If you can help, what — you speak for the President.  What is his message — message to Americans right now who are worried about the supply of gas and rising prices? 

MS. PSAKI:  His message is: I understand, and I am doing everything I can, using every lever of government, to ensure we reduce the impact on the American people and their lives, whether it is because they want to do — travel for the weekend; whether they are going to visit their grandchildren because they just got vaccinated — just to incorporate another objective; or whatever it may be. 

And his concern from — his focus from the very beginning is: “Do not halt.  Act.  I need you to act.  I need you to take action, to take — put every — every step in place that is possible.”

Q    Did Colonial — I think I know your answers to these, but I want to ask them.  Did Colonial pay the ransom already, or will they pay it?

MS. PSAKI:  I would send you to Colonial to answer that question.  Of course, the guidance from the FBI is not to do that.

Q    Does the U.S. government know whether they paid or intend to pay?

MS. PSAKI:  I just don’t have anything more for you on that.

Q    Do you believe that the public and the government have a right to know when a major national security asset, like in this case, pays or would pay a ransom to the Russians?

MS. PSAKI:  Well, first of all, Peter, we have not made an official attribution, aside from the individual.

Q    To whomever.  To whomever. 

MS. PSAKI:  Okay, but that’s an important point —

Q    Good.  I appreciate it.

MS. PSAKI:  Just for clarification —

Q    Fair enough.

MS. PSAKI:  — official attribution.  I will say that there is advice and guidance we give from the federal government, because we know this incentivizes additional attacks.  That is guidance that’s given from the FBI.

But this is a private-sector company, and I would refer you to them for any questions about what they have or have not paid.

Source White House Press Briefing

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