Infrastructure protection gets second unanimous vote in as many days



(The Center Square) – Lawmakers have sent a strong message to anyone considering an attack on the energy infrastructure within North Carolina.

The upper chamber voted 42-0 on Thursday to approve Senate Bill 58 to “Protect Critical Infrastructure,” legislation aimed at preventing the types of attacks on energy stations that left thousands of North Carolinians in the cold without power last winter.

The concurrence vote followed changes in a House committee that added telephone, broadband and broadcast to services protected under the legislation. That cleared the lower chamber 106-0 on Wednesday.

SB58 is now headed to Gov. Roy Cooper by special message.

The legislation comes in response to shooting attacks on two electrical distribution substations in Moore County on Dec. 3 that left about 40,000 residential and business customers without electricity. The incident prompted a state of emergency and investigation that involved the Sheriff’s Office, State Bureau of Investigation, FBI and local police departments.

The incident forced the Moore County Regional Hospital as well as water and sewer systems in Southern Pines to operate from generator power. Area schools were forced to close for four days. The bill’s sponsors spoke in committees of the life-threatening situations the outage created for some of the county’s most vulnerable residents, as well as significant losses for business. It ultimately took until Dec. 7 for most to regain power.

About a month later, another power substation in Thomasville was also attacked with gunfire, though that incident did not result in an outage.

The incidents came amid others across the country that contributed to a 79% increase in power disturbances recorded by the U.S. Department of Energy between 2021 and 2022. Power companies reported a total of 163 instances of physical attack, vandalism, suspicious activity or sabotage last year, compared to 91 in 2021 and 96 in 2020.

Despite $100,000 in total rewards for information leading to a conviction in the North Carolina cases, there have been no publicly reported arrests.

SB58, concurred Thursday without discussion or debate, would make it unlawful to knowingly and willfully destroy or damage an energy facility, or to obstruct services or transmissions. Violators would face a Class C felony, punishable by up to 15 years, two months in prison, and a $250,000 fine.

The penalty would increase to a Class B2 felony and $250,000 fine if the conduct results in death, boosting the potential prison sentence to up to 32 years, nine months.

The legislation puts the crime on par with rape, kidnapping and other serious offenses.

SB58 also addresses trespassing at energy facilities, agricultural sites, public water and sewer sites, imposing a Class I felony, or a Class G felony if the intent is to disrupt operations or if the offense puts others at risk of serious bodily injury.

Those who willfully injure or destroy telephone, broadband, broadcast, or cable equipment would face a Class C felony under SB58. A Class I felony carries a potential year in prison, while Class G is punishable by up to two years, seven months.

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