Proposed US 'Nopec' Bill Hits Wall

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Proponents of a US bill that could subject Opec members to US antitrust law face an uphill battle as they hope to raise its visibility and get the decades-old legislation over the finish line (OD Mar.13'19). US Rep. Steny Hoyer (D-Maryland), the House Majority Leader who effectively sets the legislative schedule, on Tuesday said that the No Oil Producing and Exporting Cartels (Nopec) bill was not on his radar when asked by Energy Intelligence whether House Democrats planned to move it forward. "We’ll just have to put it on his radar," Robbie Diamond, the head of the group Securing America’s Future Energy (Safe), said Wednesday at a Washington event. Safe is lobbying for the bill, which would repeal sovereign immunity that courts in the US have traditionally recognized for states that coordinate on oil, gas or products. There is also no visible effort to move the bill forward in the Senate, with key sponsor US Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) saying Tuesday that there is no current progress on the bill. None of the bill’s other three Senate sponsors or their offices reported any movement when asked by Energy Intelligence this week, and the bill has yet to get a hearing in the Senate Judiciary Committee, which oversees the kinds of changes the Nopec legislation would make. Proponents see an opportunity to move it forward with a president who has been highly critical of Opec and even endorsed versions of the legislation in the past. But the Trump administration has also maintained a close relationship with Saudi Arabia, Opec’s de facto leader. In February, US Energy Secretary Rick Perry expressed concern over the legislation, which passed out of the House Judiciary Committee early that month. Retired US Navy Admiral Dennis Blair, who served as President Barack Obama’s Director of National Intelligence, argued at the Wednesday event sponsored by Safe that the legislation would give the US more leverage in negotiations with Saudi Arabia, Opec members and the countries that coordinate with them. "What do we do right now? We schmooze them, right?" Blair said. "Our president goes over to Saudi Arabia and says, ‘Oh, wouldn’t it be nice to get the price of oil low so that we can put the screws to Iran? Wouldn’t it be nice if you kept the price of oil a little bit higher so that we could have shale oil drilling in the United States?’" Still, the oil industry represented by the American Petroleum Institute opposes the bill, as does the US Chamber of Commerce. Opponents argue that it is an overreach of US power that amounts to a sanction on foreign countries, and that it threatens to destabilize markets. Moreover, the dynamic has changed since the legislation was first introduced, with a greater portion of the US economy tied to surging US oil production. Those producers also benefit from higher prices, said Jim Krane at Rice University’s Baker Institute. "The US is the world’s largest oil producer now. We arguably get the largest benefit from Opec's production constraints," he said in a recent interview. Emily Meredith and Bridget DiCosmo, Washington

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