Like hundreds of millions of Americans, my heart breaks for Ukraine — and yet it soars at the courage and strength of her people. We are such a divided nation. I wonder whether the US would come together, in the same way, should we be the country at the receiving end of Russia’s missiles.
We — Republicans and Democrats, progressives and conservatives — have an opportunity to symbolize our standing together long enough to rally around Ukraine. Symbols should not be under-rated; think eagles, flags, and Lady Liberty.
A bipartisan group of senators, led by Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) and Joe Manchin (D-WV), have proposed legislation to stop US importation of Russian oil. The two senators have a history of working together on the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee.
- Declare a national emergency specifically with respect to the threat to our national security, foreign policy, and economy that exists as a result of Russian aggression against Ukraine and directs the President to prohibit imports of crude oil, petroleum, petroleum products, LNG, and coal from Russia.
- The President has had the authority to take these actions since 1917; this legislation does not grant additional authority. This approach is modeled on the International Emergency Economic Powers Act.
- The ban would be in place during the national emergency, and either the President or Congress would be able to terminate the emergency and the import ban.
- The bill exempts product that is already loaded or in transit at the time of enactment.
There’s a House version of the bill as well. The lead sponsors in the lower chamber are Representatives Brian Fitzpatrick (R-PA) and Josh Gottheimer (D-NJ).
The Senate bill currently has 18 co-sponsors and the support of Majority Leader Schumer (D-NY). Others on the bill are Senators Lindsay Graham (R-SC) and Brian Schatz (D-HI). The House bill has the support of Speaker Pelosi.
Opposition to the proposed embargo is coming out of the White House. The administration’s concern is that it will lead to further increases in the price of gasoline. I can’t refute that.
In response to the White House’s concern Manchin has said:
If there was a poll being taken, and they said, ‘Joe, would you pay 10 cents more per gallon to support the people of Ukraine and stop the support of Russia?’ I would gladly pay 10 cents more per gallon.
Of course, it’s easy for a senator whose annual income exceeds $500,000 per year from his coal interests to say he would willingly pay some cents more at the pump.
The White House is actively trying to keep any price hikes as small as possible. The administration isn’t without options.
For example, Biden can exercise his executive power to release some of the nation’s strategic reserves. He has already reached out to US companies to step up production.
Concerns over price gouging by companies low enough to use the invasion as an excuse to line their pockets are not without justification. Here too, the administration will be able to use its authorities, e.g., Justice Department to go after them at some later date.
The back story is that the US began moving away from Russian oil in the last months of 2021 in the belief that Putin was earnest in his threats to invade Ukraine.
According to the American Fuel and Petrochemical Manufacturers (AFPM) trade association, the US imported an average of 209,000 barrels per day (bpd) of crude oil and 500,000 bpd of other petroleum products from Russia in 2021.
Aljazeera reports that the AFPM figures amount to around three percent of US crude oil imports and one percent of the total crude oil processed by US refineries in 2021. By contrast, the US imported 61 percent of its crude oil from Canada, ten percent from Mexico, and six percent from Saudi Arabia in the same time period.
The growing embargo of Russian imports is having a substantial impact on that nation’s economy. It’s being reported that Russian exporters have been offering their country’s highest-quality petroleum at a discount of up to $20 a barrel in recent days. They’ve found few buyers.
Supporting the boycott of Russian oil doesn’t mean taking your eye off the nation’s critical need to transition to a low-carbon economy. It simply means putting aside our differences and cudgels long enough to show solidarity with the Ukrainian people.
The message is simple and should be kept that way.
I stand with the people of Ukraine in their fight against the tyranny of Vladimir Putin and am willing to pay extra at the gas pump to show my resolve.
For the rest of your message, write what’s in your heart.
There are few enough opportunities in this era of hyper-partisanship for Americans to act with one another rather than against each other.
Please don’t let this opportunity go by without taking action.
The White House can be contacted through emails and by phone at the comments line 202–456–1111.
Readers wanting to donate to relief efforts can click here for a list of organizations put together by the Obama Foundation.
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Joel B. Stronberg is a recognized thought leader in the fields of climate and clean energy. A senior executive and attorney, he is the founder and principal of The JBS Group, a Washington, DC consulting firm. Joel is currently advising the Legal Pathways to Deep Decarbonization project at Columbia University’s Sabin Center along with his other clients. Joel is a featured voice on Resilience.org, a Top Climate Change Writer on Medium.com, and a highlighted opinion writer on Energy Central.