Pelosi backs freeze on Russian oil imports to US: ‘Ban it’ | national politics

By LISA MASCARO – AP Congressional Correspondent

WASHINGTON (AP) — Amid the escalating war in Ukraine, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said Thursday she supports banning Russian oil imports to the U.S., a powerful nod that could strengthen President Joe Biden’s hand while global allies try to isolate the regime of Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Biden has been reluctant to curb Russian oil shipments to the US or impose energy sanctions in a way that would reduce supply, as gas prices are already rising at the pump for Americans. But Pelosi’s endorsement lends new currency to an idea in Congress that already has broad swathes of Republicans and a growing number of Democrats backing it. The White House has said all tools remain on the table.

“I’m for it,” Pelosi said of the end of Russian oil in the US. “Forbid it.”

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Finding common ground to counter Russian aggression against Ukraine through energy policy would be a breakthrough for the divided Congress, which has shown remarkable determination to unite US support for the Ukrainians but has struggled to find concrete steps that would Western-style democracy would help fight the Russian invasion.

A Russian oil ban could prompt a temporary alliance of lawmakers on the left and right — Democrats fighting climate change and reducing US dependence on fossil fuels; Republicans who want to boost US energy production at home; and the vast majority of lawmakers from both parties who want to stop Putin’s war.

Republicans have been pushing for Russia’s oil ban, along with some Democrats bent on punishing Putin. “What if we break up the oil and gas sector of the Russian economy?” said Sen. Lindsey Graham, RS.C. “That would be a deadly combination for the Russian economy.”

Sen. Ed Markey, a Massachusetts liberal Democrat and a leading advocate of climate change policies, also supports an import ban. “We cannot criticize Europe for its dependence on Russian energy while pumping dirty oil money into Russia,” he said

Still, Biden has resisted, fearing a ban could further disrupt global markets and add to already high prices at the pump. He also risks a backlash from climate activists who say US officials must not use the Ukraine war to expand US oil or gas drilling, a move Republicans have been pushing for. U.S. gas prices averaged nearly $3.73 a gallon on Thursday, up nearly $1 from a year ago, according to AAA Motor Club.

For now, the White House has said all options remain on the table. “We have no strategic interest in reducing global energy supplies,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki said.

The White House comments were widely endorsed by Sen. Joe Manchin, DW.Va., and Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, at a news conference Thursday unveiling bipartisan legislation to halt Russian oil imports to the United States misguidedly criticized

The legislation would halt Russian oil imports to the US by declaring a national emergency, which Biden could do himself. She gained bipartisan support, including leadership of the House Problem Solvers Caucus.

“There’s a moral obligation here: I don’t want us funding dollars, this Putin-led slaughter in Ukraine,” Murkovsky said.

Murkowski said she understood Biden won the White House partly because of his promise to fight climate change, but she said after the Russian war in Ukraine, “We’re in a different place.”

Russian oil and gas exports have overshadowed the national security policies of the US and its Western allies. The energy sector is vital to Russia’s economy, and the industry is a political force that makes countries dependent on Putin’s regime. Oil prices rose globally with the Russian invasion of Ukraine, shaking markets.

The US imported a small but notable amount of oil from Russia – about 7% of all imports of crude oil and petroleum products. Some US industry groups say it’s even less. In 2021, the US imported about 245 million barrels of crude oil and petroleum products from Russia — a 24% increase in a year, according to the US Energy Information Administration.

Pelosi said she doesn’t want to see rising gas prices at the pump for Americans, and outlined steps Congress and the administration are taking to avoid spikes.

Biden announced Tuesday he was releasing 30 million barrels of oil from US strategic reserves, part of a global effort to ease oil supplies amid the Ukraine war, and some Democrats have pushed for a temporary vacation from the federal gas tax to stem costs lower consumers.

The White House has neither endorsed nor ruled out the gas tax exemption.

Associated Press writers Aamer Madhani and Matthew Daly contributed to this story.

Copyright 2022 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, transcribed or redistributed without permission.

Updated: March 4, 2022 — 4:16 am

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