Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski on Wednesday called for the U.S. to stop imports of Russia oil to punish Moscow for the assault against Ukraine — even if it drives domestic energy prices higher.
Targeting Russian energy is the “most significant” tool left for the U.S. to deploy, the Alaska senator said in an interview, and given President Vladimir Putin’s dependence on oil and gas revenues, it’s “the one that can do the most immediate damage to Russia in halting their efforts.”
“We are going to see price increases,” Murkowski said. “Nobody wants to see that. And this is going to hurt. But we all need to recognize Europe is in the midst of a war with Russia now. Innocent people are dying, children are dying. We have not been in as volatile as a situation as anytime in my life. And so we are looking right now from a very short window.”
Murkowski is partnering with her friend and frequent legislative partner Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), who chairs the Energy and Natural Resources Committee, to introduce a bill that would ban the import of Russian crude oil and petroleum products into the U.S.
The bipartisan effort and Murkowski’s calls to directly target Russian energy exports could give President Joe Biden some political cover to take new measures against Russia, which has intensified its attacks on Ukraine.
Biden has resisted directly sanctioning or blocking Russian oil and gas shipments so far in order to fulfill his pledge to protect Americans from rising energy prices that have caused pain at the gas pump. Murkowski said fear of negative domestic impacts shouldn’t deter the president.
“He [Putin] has used energy as a weapon and we are afraid to have it on the table? I’m sorry, he put it on the table. This is not going to be easy on Europe or the United States. Hopefully it will be most difficult on Russia,” Murkowski said.
While some U.S. refiners buy Russian oil and petroluem products, the overall volumes are not a major share of U.S. consumption. Still, any reduction in deliveries could further tighten a market where crude oil prices reached their highest level in 11 years on Wednesday, a move likely to push retail gasoline prices up from the current $3.60 a gallon national average.
Murkowski said that Russian oil imported to the U.S. displaces oil produced in Alaska that is used by the same refineries on the West Coast. She suggested it wouldn’t be easy for U.S. crude to fill in the gap if Russia were cut off, and she blamed Biden’s policies for making it more difficult to quickly develop new wells.
“How easy is it to replace it? We have to remember it’s not like this country just has a dial you can ramp up from a three to a seven when you have put in place policies that inhibit investment within the industry that limit your ability to ramp up quickly. It’s hard to dial it back up,” Murkowski said.
Most likely, the bill from Murkowski and Manchin would only hasten U.S. oil refiners’ recent shift away from Russian cargoes. Imports of Russian oil and fuel ingredients had totaled 405,000 barrels a day in December, but have been dropping since August as companies took notice of Moscow’s increasingly hostile stance toward Ukraine and decided to source their crude from elsewhere to minimize risks in case open war broke out, analysts said.
Still, Manchin and Murkowski’s bipartisan effort is gaining momentum and stands apart from other partisan bills targeting different aspects of Russian energy.
Two other Republican senators, Dan Sullivan of Alaska and Bill Cassidy of Louisiana, both indicated they would back the measure. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) told POLITICO Manchin was sending him a copy of the bill.
Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.), a liberal who introduced his own bill prohibiting Russian oil imports, said he would be “open to working with” Manchin and Murkowski on their legislation.
“This is our moment to have a strong bipartisan response to say, ‘we don’t need your oil anymore than we need your caviar,’” Markey told POLITICO.
Ben Lefebvre contributed to this report.