Bill Would Toughen Penalties for Infrastructure Attacks

The Duke Energy substation in Carthage. Ted Fitzgerald/The Pilot


The North Carolina Tribune

Two Moore County lawmakers, joined by several other legislative colleagues, want more prison time and heftier fines for people who attack critical infrastructure.

State Sen. Tom McInnis, whose district includes Moore County and several other Senate Republicans filed Senate Bill 58 on Wednesday and said it’s needed in the wake of the Dec. 3 electrical substation attacks in Moore County and several other locations.

“We must send a message that the would-be actors of these attacks will not be tolerated,” he said.

Specifically, the bill would make the “willful” damage or destruction of electrical, fuel or energy infrastructure a Class C felony, with prison sentences up to 15 years and a $250,000 fine. It won’t apply to any arrests in the recent attacks, since the bill won’t be retroactive (sponsors said they wish they could do so, but it would violate the constitution).

SB 58 isn’t the only legislative proposal in response to the attacks that left Moore County in the dark for days in December. Rep. Ben Moss, R-Richmond, filed House Bill 21, which would require security measures including round-the-clock surveillance at substation sites.

Moss this past week amended that legislation to include similar provisions as McInnis’ bill. The amended legislation now includes steeper penalties, including a felony charge with up to 10 years in prison and a $500,000 fine, in addition to civil liability to repay the costs of damaged property.

McInnis said he hasn’t yet read Moss’ bill but sees it as a “conversation starter.” Moss didn’t attend Wednesday’s press conference, but Moore County’s other House member, Rep. Neal Jackson, R-Randolph, was there and plans to run McInnis’ bill in the other chamber.

Sen. Paul Newton, R-Cabarrus and a former Duke Energy executive, addressed the regulatory issue at the press conference. “We’re not going to tell electrical providers what to do with their electrical systems,” he said. “They know that more than we do.”

SB 58 will soon be heading to the Senate Judiciary Committee, where one of the chairs is co-sponsor Sen. Danny Britt, R-Robeson. Newton said sponsors didn’t include attacks on water and sewer infrastructure in the bill (although they did include broadband and telephone), but he’s open to tweaks.