The agreement announced Monday would also empower the president to boost tariffs on other imports from Russia and its ally Belarus, while requiring the U.S. trade representative to seek a suspension of Russia’s participation in the World Trade Organization. The bill, which is still being drafted, would also give the president the power to restore normal trade relations with Russia and Belarus, subject to congressional disapproval and other conditions.
President Joe Biden can invoke emergency and other powers to impose an oil import ban even without Congress — an approach that could give him more flexibility to dial down those trade restrictions if tensions ease or prices climb precipitously.
At least three laws and trade agreements empower Biden to act, though the most versatile option would probably be through sanctions that can grow over time, Kevin Book, managing director of research firm ClearView Energy Partners, said in an interview. “If this is to be a binding pinch on Russian petroleum, then it means heavy sanctions artillery and not just light fire,” Book said.
The White House has been noncommittal on the matter. White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said Monday no decision had been made on the legislation or proposed import restrictions.
Monday’s deal was announced by House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Richard Neal, the panel’s top Republican representative, Kevin Brady, Senate Finance Committee Chairman Ron Wyden and the panel’s top Republican Senator Mike Crapo.
“As Russia continues its unprovoked attack on the Ukrainian people, we have agreed on a legislative path forward to ban the import of energy products from Russia and to suspend normal trade relations with both Russia and Belarus,” the lawmakers said in a joint statement.
Separate Senate legislation to bar imports of crude oil, petroleum products and liquefied natural gas from Russia is being developed by Republican Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and Democrat Joe Manchin of West Virginia, with the backing of at least 18 other senators.
Lawmakers also are expected to announce a deal on $10 billion in funding to respond to the Ukraine crisis as soon as Monday. The aid is to be part of a $1.5 trillion annual government funding package needed to avoid a shutdown this week.
Refiners have been lobbying the White House and Congress to ensure any new import controls do not apply to deliveries that are already contracted but could take about 45 more days to arrive in the U.S. They also have pushed lawmakers to ensure the ban doesn’t ensnare crude from Kazakhstan, which is shipped to the U.S. from Russian ports.
An abrupt halt in imports could leave some refineries without sufficient replacement crudes, leading them to reduce production of gasoline and diesel.
The nation’s top refining trade group, the American Fuel and Petrochemical Manufacturers Association, stressed the importance of a transition period.
“AFPM supports a ban on new purchases of Russian crude and products,” the trade group’s president of government relations, Geoff Moody, said in an interview. “We recommend that policy makers provide a transition to help protect consumers.”
Administration officials have repeatedly stressed the importance of maintaining a steady global supply of oil and minimizing economic disruption for consumers in the U.S. and Europe, as crude hit 14-year highs. Brent crude rose as high as $139 a barrel Monday before trading closer to $125. West Texas Intermediate traded near $120.
A Russian crude import ban has drawn bipartisan support on Capitol Hill, and activists are pressing the Biden administration to go further than crude, with bans on coal, natural gas liquids and other products.
Senator Dick Durbin, the No. 2 Democrat in the Senate, said the U.S. should restrict Russian oil imports even if allies do not go along, and legislation should move swiftly. Durbin said he had not heard from the administration on the issue over the weekend but added: “I hope they come around to support the legislation.”
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi told lawmakers in a note Sunday the chamber is “exploring strong legislation” that would ban the import of Russian oil and energy products among other steps to isolate Russia from the global economy. Pressure to act increased after President Volodymyr Zelenskiy asked lawmakers to ban Russian oil imports during a call Saturday.