Senator Ed Markey has joined a growing contingent of US lawmakers who are responding to the invasion of Ukraine by calling for a ban on Russia’s most lucrative international export: oil.
The ban, outlined in legislation filed by Markey earlier this week, would add to a hefty list of sanctions from the United States and other NATO countries that seek to target Russia’s financial institutions and oligarchs.
Those sanctions have already destabilized the Russian economy, and a ban on oil imports to the United States would increase pressure on Russia’s president, Vladimir Putin, to end his offensive, Markey said at a press conference in Boston on Saturday.
“We have a moral moment right now to cut off the money pipeline that is funding the missiles and the tanks and the soldiers that are destroying Ukrainian homes and squashing dissent within Russia,” he said.
The legislation, called Severing Putin’s Immense Gains from Oil Transfers Act, or SPIGOT, would prohibit “all imports of Russian crude oil and petroleum products into the United States” and require US officials to come up with a plan to use carbon-free energy as an alternative to Russian oil, according to a statement from Markey’s office.
The energy sector is vital to the Russian economy, and the industry is a political force that leaves countries reliant on Putin’s regime. Oil prices spiked with the Russian invasion of Ukraine, shaking global markets.
The United States imported a small but notable amount of oil from Russia — some 7 percent of all imports of crude oil and petroleum products in 2021, according to the US Energy Information Administration.
Still, the White House has so far resisted calls for a ban, fearing it could further disrupt global markets and raise already high prices at the gas pump for Americans. On Saturday, US gas prices averaged $3.92 a gallon, according to AAA. In Massachusetts, the average was roughly $3.96.
But Markey on Saturday argued that any loss in Russian oil could be immediately offset by releasing oil from the US strategic reserves, a step he said could prevent gas prices from climbing. The Biden administration has already released 30 million barrels of oil from the reserves as part of a global effort to ease supplies amid the war.
Since the United States does not rely heavily on Russian oil, it is unlikely that gas prices would rise as a result of a ban, said Michael Klein, a professor of international economic affairs at Tufts University and the executive editor of Econofact, an online economics publication.
“The US can get its oil elsewhere, so I’m not sure that the impact on consumers would be dramatic,” he said. “Any cost that we’re bearing is a lot less than the people in Kyiv who are dying in the streets or having their apartments blown up.”
He noted that while US restrictions on oil imports “will have a big impact on the Russian economy,” such a ban would not hold the same weight as sanctions already imposed by the West.
European countries are far more reliant on Russian oil and would see energy prices soar to potentially catastrophic levels should they impose a ban similar to the one proposed by Markey. In turn, European restrictions would be more damaging to Russia, Klein said.
As outrage over the war intensifies, a growing number of Republicans and Democrats in Congress have lined up against Biden and signaled their support for a ban.
They include Senators Joe Manchin, a West Virginia Democrat, and Lisa Murkowski, an Alaska Republican, who on Thursday unveiled their own bipartisan bill to halt the flow of Russian oil and gas into the United States. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, a Democrat, has backed the idea as well.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky met with more than 300 members of Congress over Zoom on Saturday, and among other requests, implored the United States to stop using Russian oil. Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said in a press briefing Saturday that “Russian oil smells with Ukrainian blood.”
Markey, a liberal Democrat, has pushed for more reliance on renewable energy. He framed his legislation as a way for the United States to begin shifting away from oil and natural gas altogether. At the Boston press conference, he criticized Republicans who he said have used the war in Ukraine to call for the United States to increase domestic oil production.
“The pathway to peace is powered by clean energy,” said Markey, who was on the call with Zelensky.
The United States, he said, must move “towards a future that is no longer dependent upon Russian oil, but dependent upon our own renewable resources.”
Material from the Associated Press was used.