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Moves to ban gas and oil imports from Russia gain steam

A bipartisan group of lawmakers proposed legislation in both chambers to block importation

Murkowski, who faced fellow Republican Kelly Tshibaka, won a fourth full term in the Senate.
Murkowski, who faced fellow Republican Kelly Tshibaka, won a fourth full term in the Senate. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

A proposal for the U.S. to ban the import of Russian oil and gas gained traction Thursday as a bipartisan chorus of lawmakers backed the idea and Speaker Nancy Pelosi gave her support.

Eighteen Republicans and Democrats proposed legislation in both chambers to block imports of oil from Russia in response to its attack on Ukraine. More than 1 million people have fled that country, including half a million children who are now refugees, according to UNICEF, the children’s charity arm of the U.N.

“This is actually something that can make a difference,” Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, one of the sponsors of the draft legislation in the Senate, said Thursday. “No more Russian energy should come into the United States.”

“We’re joining together today to cut off Putin’s largest revenue source,” said Rep. Josh Gottheimer, D-N.J., a sponsor, along with Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick, R-Pa., of the House legislation.

While President Joe Biden has levied financial sanctions against Russia in response to its invasion, targeting President Vladimir Putin, oligarchs and political allies of Putin as well as the nation’s banking system, his administration has held back on targeting its oil and gas supply, part of the economic lifeblood of the country.

The Treasury Department also announced new sanctions against Russian oligarchs and Kremlin officials Thursday. Asked about the prospect of banning Russian oil imports, Biden said Wednesday, “Nothing is off the table.”

White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said the administration is trying to maximize economic pain on Putin and minimize any knock-on economic pain the U.S. and its allies abroad feel. NATO allies in Europe are heavily dependent on Russian gas for their energy needs.

Psaki said the administration has been taking steps “to degrade Russia’s status as a leading energy supplier over time,” such as blocking the Nord Stream 2 pipeline, a now-stalled Russian-backed project to bring gas to Germany, and sending U.S. liquified natural gas to Europe to help diversify its energy supply.

The administration is considering options to cut U.S. consumption of Russian energy but that has to be balanced with the need to maintain a steady global energy supply, Psaki said. “A reduction of global supply would have an impact on raising prices,” she said.

Pelosi told reporters Thursday she supported the idea of a ban on Russian oil and gas imports.

“I’m all for that. Ban it,” Pelosi said. She did not elaborate.

The Energy Department said Tuesday it would release 30 million barrels of oil from the U.S. Strategic Petroleum Reserve in concert with other oil-producing nations that would release a total of 30 million barrels from their reserves in hopes of putting downward pressure on oil prices.

The U.S., the No. 1 producer of oil and gas in the world, imported about 2.8 billion barrels in 2020, according to the Energy Information Administration. Most of that came from Canada.

About 198 million barrels came from Russia, edging out the approximately 191 million that came from Saudi Arabia but less than the roughly 274 million brought in from Mexico, EIA data show.

Three percent of U.S. imports of crude oil came from Russia in 2021, according to the American Fuel and Petrochemical Manufacturers, a trade group for American refining and chemical companies. Sixty-one percent came from Canada, 10 percent from Mexico and 6 percent from Saudi Arabia last year.

Energy policy reared up at a Senate Energy and Natural Resources hearing Thursday morning, when Republican senators and Sen. Joe Manchin III, D-W.Va., lambasted members of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, an independent agency that oversees permitting for pipelines and other energy infrastructure, for voting 3-2 to tighten environmental oversight on pipelines.

The three Democratic commissioners voted to approve new guidelines for new natural gas projects, while the two Republicans on the panel voted against the changes. The new guidelines, approved Feb. 17, require environmental impact statements on natural gas projects that emit more than 100,000 metric tons of greenhouse gases annually.

“We are now in a time of war, given Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, a freedom-seeking country,” Manchin said at the hearing, adding that FERC’s decision made it harder for the U.S. to export liquefied natural gas, or LNG, to allies abroad.

Republicans and centrist Democrats have pushed in the last week for the growth of LNG exports, which requires the construction with government approval of highly technical terminals.

Sen. John Barrasso, R-Wyo., said the committee should use its “authority over future nominations to the commission” to press it to change the policy, while Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, suggested dissolving the agency.

“I’m now starting to think that perhaps we’d be better off without FERC, which, having been created by Congress, can be eliminated by Congress,” Lee said. “Perhaps it should.”

Like Richard Glick, the chairman of FERC, Democrats on the committee said the new guidance aims to reduce the number of times federal lawsuits are remanded to the agency for reviews of projects’ climate impacts.

There are seven LNG export terminals in the U.S., two more are under construction and 13 have been approved but are not yet under construction, according to FERC.

“I understand the geopolitical implications of our actions,” said Willie Phillips, the newest FERC commissioner. “Our decisions aren’t made in a vacuum.”

David Lerman contributed to this report.

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