Mar 4, 2022 - Energy & Environment

Calls for Russia oil imports ban pits lawmakers against White House

Illustration of two fuel nozzles criss-crossed.

Illustration: Annelise Capossela/Axios

There is growing momentum in Congress to cut off U.S. imports of oil and petroleum products from Russia in response to the invasion of Ukraine.

Why it matters: This issue is pitting lawmakers from both parties against the White House, which is wary of a ban's potential to jack up gas prices.

Driving the news: On Thursday, a bipartisan, bicameral coalition of lawmakers introduced a bill that would ban U.S. oil and petroleum product imports from Russia.

  • The lawmakers include Senate Energy Committee Chairman Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) along with Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska).
  • House Speaker Nancy Pelosi backed the idea. "I'm all for that. Ban it. Ban the oil coming from Russia," Pelosi said at a news conference.

The big picture: Total U.S. oil and refined product imports have declined greatly since the mid-2000s, but the country remains a significant importer.

  • The U.S. imports from Russia have bounced around, from more than 800,000 barrels per day in mid-2021 to about 400,000 per day in December.

Yes, but: Banning Russian imports into the U.S. could further increase gas prices, which are already running at their highest levels since 2014.

  • For this reason, the White House has opposed an oil imports ban.
  • "Our objective and the president's objective has been to maximize impact on President Putin and Russia while minimizing impact to us and our allies and partners," White House press secretary Jen Psaki said yesterday.
  • "We don't have a strategic interest in reducing the global supply of energy," she said. "It’s as simple as: Less supply raises prices."

Later on Thursday, Manchin contested the administration's arguments, saying an imports ban would not necessarily reduce oil supplies and cause prices to rise because the U.S. can boost its domestic production in the meantime.

  • "We can basically produce whatever needs to be produced," he said.

Zoom in: The bill, which has 18 bipartisan co-sponsors, would prohibit more than the importation of Russian crude oil. It would also ban imports of petroleum products, liquefied natural gas and coal.

The intrigue: The White House needs Manchin's support to pass any pared-down version of the Build Back Better legislation, including climate provisions.

  • If the administration blocks Manchin's push for an imports ban, it could complicate already tough efforts to revive pieces of that legislative package.

Axios' Ben Geman contributed reporting.

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