Senate Armed Services Committee chairman Jim Inhofe called Thursday for steep tariffs on imports of foreign oil, citing the price war between Russia and Saudi Arabia that has tanked commodity prices to an 18-year low.
The Oklahoma Republican said he sent a letter to Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross asking him to impose tariffs under Section 232 of the Trade Expansion Act of 1962, which authorizes the administration to hike tariffs for national security reasons.
“I’m very much concerned,” said Mr. Inhofe on CNBC’s “Squawk on the Street.” “I don’t want to get us in a position where we’re dependent on importing oil for our ability to defend America, to run our economy, and that’s what we’re faced with right now.”
Both Russia and Saudi Arabia have indicated they plan to increase oil production even as the novel coronavirus has depressed demand by reducing airplane and cruise-ship travel.
“First of all, he [Ross] has to determine that dumping is taking place. Well, we know dumping is taking place,” said Mr. Inhofe. “We even know from some of the Russian people that there’s a reason for this, and that’s to get us to be dependent upon them. We can’t let that happen.”
The United States became a net exporter of oil in November for the first time in decades, thanks to the shale revolution driven by technologies such as hydraulic fracturing.
After absorbing heavy losses on Wednesday, the U.S. oil industry rebounded Thursday, regaining more than half of Wednesday’s stock-market decline as U.S. West Texas Intermediate crude soared by 23%.
Harold Hamm, executive chairman and founder of the oil-and-gas firm Continental Resources, emphasized that “we’re not asking for a handout.”
“We’ve delivered something here that was unheard of, and that was bringing up production,” Mr. Hamm said. “The national energy renaissance has been tremendous for the American people.”
Mr. Inhofe said the impact of an oil glut driven by the global price war could be devastating for American workers.
“if the industry goes down, nobody’s going to be working. A lot of jobs are dependent upon our ability to produce domestically,” Mr. Inhofe said.