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NOPEC Antitrust Bill Could Get Senate Approval Today

The U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee is expected on vote later on Thursday on a bill that would allow the U.S. to sue OPEC for antitrust behavior and market manipulation, and chances appear high that the bill could get committee approval.

The so-called No Oil Producing and Exporting Cartels Act (NOPEC) has been an on-and-off topic for U.S. lawmakers and Administrations for nearly two decades but has never moved past discussions at committees in Congress. Forms of antitrust legislation aimed at OPEC were discussed at various times under Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama, but they both threatened to veto such legislation.

Now, with gasoline prices in the United States hitting their highest levels since 2014, the NOPEC legislation is again under discussion among lawmakers.   

Last week, Senator Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), a Senate Judiciary Committee Ranking Member, said that the bipartisan NOPEC bill was scheduled for consideration at the Senate Judiciary Committee this week. 

“Begging oil cartels for help is not the answer to combatting sky high ga$ price$,” Senator Grassley said on Twitter, adding that “We should hold cartels accountable for price-fixing/market manipulation.”

Yet, it’s unclear if the bill – even if it gets approval in the Senate Judiciary Committee – would be moved for discussion at the Senate, or then to President Joe Biden’s desk, and it’s unclear whether he would sign such legislation into law. 

Still, “Its prospects for passage look better than they have in 15 years,” Kevin Book, managing director of ClearView Energy Partners, told Bloomberg on Thursday. 

Major trade groups have expressed opposition to the bill, arguing it could backfire on America’s oil and gas industry and U.S. interests. 

The bill could have an unintended negative impact on America’s oil and gas industry, the American Petroleum Institute (API) said in a letter seen by Reuters. 

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce addressed on Wednesday the Senate Committee on the Judiciary, saying it opposes the bill, known as S. 977.  

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“Although S. 977 is intended to be limited to restraint of trade in oil, natural gas or petroleum products, the Committee should be wary of the precedent it would create. Once sovereign immunity has been eliminated for one action of a state or its agents, it can be eliminated for all state actions and the actions of agents of the state,” the Chamber of Commerce said.  

“Under reciprocal legal regimes, the United States and its agents throughout the world could be tried before foreign courts – perhaps including the military – for any activity that the foreign state wishes to make an offense,” it added. 

By Tsvetana Paraskova for Oilprice.com

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