(CMR) Despite numerous sanctions against Russia following its attack on Ukraine, the United States has not stopped buying oil from the Putin-run country.
“We don't have a strategic interest in reducing the global supply of energy… that would raise prices at the gas pump for the American people,” White House spokesperson Jen Psaki told reporters on Thursday.
Psaki said a ban on crude from Russia could further increase oil prices, which hit decade-long highs this week.
However, according to Reuters, a bipartisan group of US senators introduced a bill on Thursday to ban US imports of Russian oil, saying the shipments could be replaced by boosting output in North America and other places.
The bill would have to pass the Senate and House and be signed by President Joe Biden to become law, but the White House has indicated reluctance to support moves that could increase the price of gasoline at a time when inflation is already high.
The bill, Banning Russian Energy Imports Act, is intended to punish President Vladimir Putin over his invasion of Ukraine and is sponsored by 18 senators in the 100-member chamber, including Joe Manchin, a conservative Democrat, and Lisa Murkowski, a Republican. Similar legislation has been offered by Senator Ed Markey, a liberal Democrat.
House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi also said she supports a ban. “I'm all for that,” she told reporters. “Ban the oil coming from Russia.”
“I don't believe this country should be importing anything from Russia. It will send even a bigger message that the United States is in this with Ukrainians for the long haul.” Jon Tester, a Democrat from oil-producing Montana who supports the Manchin-Murkowski bill, said.
It was unclear if the bill will win the 60 votes in the Senate that are likely necessary for it to pass, but the fact that several Democrats are co-sponsoring it increases its chances.
The United States imported more than 20.4 million barrels of crude and refined products a month on average in 2021 from Russia, about 8% of US liquid fuel imports, according to the Energy Information Administration (EIA).
On Thursday, Par Pacific Holdings became the first US refiner to suspend purchases of Russian oil for its Hawaii-based refinery. According to the EIA, Russia accounted for nearly 28% of Hawaii's crude imports last year.
Russia is the second-largest exporter of crude oil, shipping out 4 to 5 million barrels of crude every day, trailing only Saudi Arabia. While exempting Russian oil and gas, a series of sanctions imposed by the West have nonetheless disrupted the global oil trade, as buyers shun Russian barrels and search for supply elsewhere.