Biden: White House in 'very close contact' with Colonial Pipeline on shutdown, fuel shortage

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WASHINGTON – President Joe Biden said Wednesday his administration is in "very close contact" with Colonial Pipeline after a cyberattack disrupted fuel deliveries and threatened a gas shortage across the Southeast and Mid-Atlantic regions in recent days.

"We have been in very, very close contact with Colonial Pipeline, which is the one area you’re talking about - one of the reasons gasoline prices are going up," Biden told reporters during remarks on the COVID-19 vaccine campaign.

Colonial Pipeline issued a statement following the president's remarks announcing that it restarted its pipeline operations after temporarily closing it for six days. The company said it would take several days before its supply chain could return to normal.

Biden's comments came as officials urged Americans not to hoard gas, including advising against filling up plastic bags of gasoline, and the administration worked to find alternative ways to deliver gas amid the temporary shutdown of Colonial Pipeline, a major system that delivers fuel across the East Coast.

The FBI announced last Friday that hackers known as DarkSide hit the Colonial Pipeline system with a ransomware attack, which takes computerized systems hostage until a payment is made.

The incident, along with the SolarWinds hack on U.S. federal agencies last year and a cyber breach of Microsoft Exchange, raised fresh questions about the vulnerability of the U.S. infrastructure system.

In response, Biden signed an executive order Wednesday to modernize the nation's cyber defense, according to a senior administration official.

The order includes removing contractual barriers to allow IT service providers to share breach information with government officials, establishing baseline security standards for commercial software sold to the government, creating a standard playbook for cyber incident responses and establishing a cybersecurity safety review board led by government and private sector officials.

The official said the order was the first of many steps the government would take to confront cybersecurity threats but reflected a shift in the administration's mindset from incident response to prevention.

More: Colonial Pipeline restarted operations, owners say 'it will take several days' for supply chain to return to normal

More: Continued gas shortages? Panic buying after Colonial Pipeline cyberattack won't solve the problem, experts say.

Panicked drivers rushed to fill up their tanks, fearing a gas shortage, even though pipeline officials have said they expect to "substantially" restore service by the end of the week, likely limiting most of the fallout.

According to AAA Gas Prices, which conducts a daily survey, the national average price for gas rose 8 cents from a week ago to $3.01, marking the first time national prices have topped $3 since 2014. The impact is largely concentrated in the Southeast, with station outages occurring throughout the region.

Biden and other White House officials have sought to allay concerns by issuing emergency waivers to ease restrictions on the distribution of fuel and assist in supply challenges

"I have in the meantime made it easier for us to have lifted some of the restrictions on the transportation of fuel, as well as access to the United States military providing fuel and with vehicles to get it there, places where it's badly needed," Biden told reporters.

Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg told reporters earlier on Wednesday the administration was "working around the clock" to tackle the delays caused by the pipeline shutdown.

Buttigieg, who appeared alongside Michael Regan, Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, outlined the steps the administration has taken in recent days, including surveying the availability of vessels that are qualified to carry petroleum in the Gulf of Mexico and up the eastern seaboard and issuing waivers to extend the hours during which drivers can transport fuel.

He also said the White House determined that 10 states can use existing federal major debt disaster declarations to issue permits that allow drivers to temporarily carry additional gasoline that would ordinarily exceed existing weight limits on federal highways in their state.

Buttigieg, who is among the administration officials pushing Biden's $2 trillion infrastructure proposal, said the incident was a reminder that the U.S. infrastructure needed to be more resilient.

"This is not an extra, this is not a luxury, this is not an option,” he said. “This has to be core to how we secure critical infrastructure.”

Contributing: Brett Molina, Nathan Bomey, USA TODAY

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Biden and Colonial Pipeline in 'close contact' on shutdown, gas shortage