WASHINGTON, DC – The U.S. Senate passed a bipartisan bill introduced by U.S. Senators Gary Peters (D-MI) and Cory Gardner (R-CO) to strengthen the nation’s ability to predict severe space weather events and mitigate their harmful impacts on Earth. A severe space weather event, such as a solar flare or coronal mass ejection, has the potential to seriously disrupt the electric power grid, communications networks including cellular phones and GPS, satellites and aircraft operations. Peters and Gardner previously introduced the bill in the 115th Congress, where it unanimously advanced through the Commerce, Science and Technology Committee. Representatives Ed Perlmutter (D-CO) and Mo Brooks (R-AL) introduced a House companion version of the bill last year.
“As communities in Michigan and across the country are grappling with an unprecedented public health and economic crisis, our ability to stay connected, whether it’s through the electric grid, cell phones or even air travel is more critical than ever,” said Senator Peters. “New data indicates space weather poses a significant and frequent challenge to our national security, economy and infrastructure. The question is not if but when the next major space weather event will impact us. This bipartisan bill will put us on the right track to better predict and reduce disruptions to our economy, and after passing the Senate, I am hopeful we can get this bill signed into law.”
“Space weather stands to present significant economic and natural security implications,” said Senator Gardner. “An event has the potential to disrupt essential services, communications, and everyday technologies we rely on. It’s important that we prioritize the research and development necessary to reduce the risk and allow our nation to react and recover from these events, which the Senate did today by passing this bipartisan bill.”
“Monitoring space weather is one of the many proactive steps we take to protect our electric grid and meet reliability standards,” Heather Rivard, Senior Vice President for Electric Distribution, DTE. “DTE is committed to working in collaboration with federal agencies to enhance the resilience of the grid and prepare for potential threats to our system, including solar activity. We thank Senator Peters for his leadership on this bipartisan legislation, which will further those efforts by ensuring the electric industry has the most reliable and accurate space weather forecasts and is ready to respond to any potential incidents.”
“Consumers Energy congratulates Senator Peters and Senator Gardner on the passage of their bipartisan bill in the U.S. Senate,” said Brian Rich, Senior Vice President of Customer Experience & Technology, Consumers Energy. “As the largest utility in Michigan, we support continued research and development on this challenging and important issue.”
The Promoting Research and Observations of Space Weather to Improve the Forecasting of Tomorrow (PROSWIFT) Act directs the federal agencies that study and predict space weather to coordinate with the private sector to assess the potential impacts of space weather on the United States, and determine what new research and technology is needed to improve the ability to forecast space weather events and mitigate potential damage. The legislation outlines clear roles and responsibilities for those federal agencies, including the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the National Science Foundation (NSF), the Department of Defense (DOD) and the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). The bill also directs NOAA, along with NASA and DOD to develop plans for a backup of aging Solar and Heliospheric Observatory (SOHO) satellite, which after 25 years is nearing the end of its life. Space weather events are caused by constantly changing conditions in the Sun’s magnetic fields that create solar flares, which are built up energy released as a burst of radiation, or coronal mass ejections (CME), which are explosions of the Sun’s magnetic fields and ionized gas releasing radiation and energized particles that interact with the Earth’s magnetic fields. This can be observed on Earth as the Northern and Southern lights.
Space weather has the potential to impact infrastructure on Earth and severely disrupt the economy. An estimate by Lloyds of London found that a worst-case scenario space weather event could cost up to $2.6 trillion. Impacts include outages or blackouts of electric utilities, disrupting GPS and communication networks, and forcing airlines to reroute air traffic.
Both Peters and Gardner serve on the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation, which oversees the activities of NASA and NOAA as well as the Subcommittee on Science, Oceans, Fisheries, and Weather.