HARRISBURG, Pa. (ErieNewsNow) - People around the country rely on critical infrastructure like electrical substations, natural gas and water treatment facilities to survive. Much of that infrastructure is fragile and potentially susceptible to attacks, which could bring far-reaching consequences. 

Attacks on critical infrastructure have become more common in recent years. According to US Department of Energy data, in 2022 there were 80 acts of vandalism, 57 reports of “suspicious activity” and 25 “actual physical attacks” on power facilities across the United States. Dozens of “electric disturbance events” have already been reported for this year. From January 1 to March 31, 2023, over two dozen events were characterized as “vandalism” on critical infrastructure and four were “actual physical attacks." 

“We really need to take a look at this because this is a serious problem. We want to try and discourage it right up front,” said State Senator Gene Yaw (R-23), the sponsor of Senate Bill 819. “The biggest problem the ramifications from an attack on our critical infrastructure, whether it's the power grid or gas lines or anything like that, is the downstream affect that it has on everything,” he added. 

Yaw says he was inspired to sponsor the legislation after intentional gunfire at two electrical substations in Moore County, North Carolina that left 45,000 homes and businesses without power for days last year. 

“A lot of our infrastructure, especially the electric power grid, to be very honest, is pretty fragile. It's pretty easy to disrupt it for thousands of people,” said Yaw. 

Yaw says current penalties in Pennsylvania, often a summary offense, don’t go far enough to deter attacks on critical infrastructure. 

“The comparison that I would draw would be the type of thing where somebody may throw a stone through a store window or something like that. Well, this is a lot more serious than that,” said Yaw. 

Under SB 819, unauthorized individuals who willfully and knowingly trespass on property containing a critical infrastructure facility would face a third-degree misdemeanor charge, fines or imprisonment. The same goes for those who conspire to trespass. 

An individual who trespasses with the intent to willfully damage, destroy, vandalize or tamper with equipment at a critical infrastructure facility would face a third-degree felony and over $1,000 in fines or imprisonment. The consequences would be greater if an individual physically damages equipment, with fines of more than $10,000 and the potential for civil suits over damages to personal or real estate interests. 

Critical infrastructure listed in the bill ranges from natural gas compressor stations and chemical manufacturing facilities to radio/TV transmission and electric power generating facilities. 

“I would like to think that we're being a little bit proactive about what we're doing to tell people this is really a necessity in the way that we live, and we're going to do everything that we can to protect it,” said Yaw. “We just want to make it very clear to people that this is a really serious issue,” he added. 

SB 819 was referred to the Senate Judiciary Committee in June where it still waits for approval.