President Biden on Tuesday announced a ban on the importation of Russian oil and natural gas to ramp up economic punishment on Russian President Vladimir Putin for invading Ukraine.
“This is a step we are taking to inflict further pain on Putin, but there will be costs here in the United States as well,” Mr. Biden said. “Defending freedom is going to cost us as well.”
The embargo is expected to cause record-high gasoline prices to soar even higher.
The U.S. is the first country to prohibit the import of Russian oil. European Union officials announced Tuesday that they would reduce reliance on Russian oil but stopped short of a full ban. Europeans rely more heavily than Americans on Russian energy.
A senior administration official said the U.S. consulted with its European allies before acting but did not ask them to join the ban.
“We are moving with this ban, understanding that many of our European allies and partners may not be in a position to join us,” Mr. Biden said. “We are a net exporter of energy, so we can take this step when others cannot.”
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Mounting bipartisan pressure on Capitol Hill forced the White House to reverse its position against a ban over concerns about increased costs for consumers.
The ban, which goes into effect immediately, prohibits further purchases of Russian crude oil, other petroleum products, liquefied natural gas and coal. It also winds down deliveries of purchases that the U.S. already has contracted.
It prohibits further U.S. investment in Russia’s energy sector and blocks Americans from participating in foreign investments that underwrite Russia’s energy production.
Members of both parties introduced legislation last week to ban Russian oil, and the measure quickly gained widespread support. Leaders in the House and Senate said they could take up the ban this week.
The move marks a reversal in policy for the Biden administration, which resisted bipartisan calls to escalate punishments against Moscow.
The pivot also gives Mr. Biden and congressional Democrats a way to deflect blame for soaring energy prices and pin it on a popular villain: Mr. Putin.
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Congressional Republicans also are blaming Mr. Putin, though they will use the escalating prices at the pump to reinforce calls for more domestic energy production.
“I’m placing the blame on Putin,” Sen. Lisa Murkowski, Alaska Republican, said recently. “This is Putin’s war. Putin has chosen this. And he’s chosen as one of his tools — one of his weapons — energy.”
As Russia escalated its assault on Ukraine by targeting civilian areas amid accusations of war crimes, the Biden administration took a more serious look at the ban.
In a video call with U.S. lawmakers on Saturday, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy urged them to support a ban on Russian oil imports.
White House press secretary Jen Psaki on Monday appeared to signal a coming ban.
Ms. Psaki told reporters that “no decision has been made at this point,” but she acknowledged internal discussions with European countries.
On Tuesday, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson was reportedly preparing a plan to cut the United Kingdom’s dependence on Russian energy.
Russia last year represented 3% of total U.S. crude oil imports and 1% of the total crude oil produced by U.S. refineries, according to the American Fuel & Petrochemical Manufacturers. Canada, Mexico and Saudi Arabia accounted for more than three-fourths of U.S. crude oil imports.
Russian oil and natural gas exports constitute a much larger share of the total energy mix for several Western European markets.
The European Union outlined plans to cut Russian natural gas imports by 75% this year and eliminate its dependence on Russia for energy by 2030.
Energy exports make up half of Russia’s economy, and oil is the largest U.S. import from the country.
Administration officials said a Russian oil ban would reduce supply and raise prices at the gas pump for Americans.
A Quinnipiac University poll this week found that 71% of Americans would support a ban on Russian oil, even if it meant higher gasoline prices.
Mr. Biden acknowledged that pump prices would increase as a result of the ban and vowed to do everything he could to minimize the impact. He also warned oil and gas companies against taking advantage of the situation.
“Russia’s aggression is costing us all. And it’s no time for profiteering or price gouging. I want to be clear about what we’ll not tolerate,” he said.
The national average price for regular gasoline has topped $4 a gallon for the first time in more than a decade. On Tuesday, the average hit a record high of $4.17 for a gallon of regular gas, topping the previous record of $4.11, set on July 17, 2008, according to AAA.
After briefly reaching nearly $140 a barrel in spot trading this week, the price of the benchmark Brent crude oil was trading at $132 a barrel early Tuesday.
The price rose after the U.S. and its allies released 60 million barrels of oil, including 30 million barrels from the U.S. Strategic Petroleum Reserve, to blunt shock waves in the energy market.
Mr. Biden rejected Republican criticism that climate change policies, including canceling the Keystone XL pipeline and tightening vehicle emissions standards, pushed energy prices higher. He said private oil and gas companies have more than 9,000 permits to drill on U.S. land.
“It is simply not true that my administration or policies are holding back domestic energy production,” he said. “That’s simply not true. Even amid the pandemic, companies in the United States pumped more oil in my first year in office than my predecessor’s first year.”
However, data from the U.S. Energy Administration shows that crude oil production has dipped under the Biden administration. In 2020, the U.S. produced 11,283 barrels of crude oil per day. That dropped to 11,185 barrels per day last year.
Republicans welcomed the ban on Russian oil but urged Mr. Biden to address the supply shortage by boosting U.S. oil production. They said looking to other countries, including Iran and Venezuela, would be a mistake.
“President Biden and the United States need to unleash American energy production and stop funding Putin’s ruthless war chest,” said Sen. Steve Daines, Montana Republican.
Sen. Marco Rubio, Florida Republican, said he was happy that Mr. Biden imposed the ban but called on the president to ramp up production in the U.S.
“We can easily replace [Russian oil] by producing 200,000 a day of our own oil. We can easily do that very quickly,” Mr. Rubio said.
The oil ban was the latest sanction imposed against Russia in response to its invasion of Ukraine 12 days earlier. Mr. Biden has sanctioned a list of Russian oligarchs, politicians and even Mr. Putin. He has also targeted some banks in connection with Russian allies.