All four members of Maine’s congressional delegation said they backed efforts to ban imports of Russian oil and gas on Thursday, a move that could weaken the Kremlin during its war in Ukraine but has encountered resistance from President Joe Biden’s administration.
The calls come as the U.S. has imposed harsh financial sanctions on Russia, including beginning to seize assets of powerful businessmen close to Russian leader Vladimir Putin and cutting off banks from the global banking system. But Russia has continued its military assault on Ukraine despite those consequences and mounting casualties.
It was a remarkable example of Maine’s delegation nudging the administration for a more aggressive foreign policy approach that would also further drive up short-term energy costs. While oil is one of the last things linking Russia to the Western world, it is not clear how far a ban would go in stopping Putin’s aggression.
White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said there were no immediate plans for a ban on Thursday, saying the U.S. did not have “a strategic interest in reducing the global supply of energy,” which could drive up costs. She noted higher energy prices could help Russia if its producers still had countries to sell to.
The Russian invasion and sanctions came as gas prices were rising across the U.S., reaching the highest levels since 2014, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. Banning imports has bipartisan backing in Congress despite that. Both Collins and King signed onto a bill introduced Thursday that would ban imports of Russian oil, gas and coal.
“Banning the importation of Russian energy products would cut off a portion of this key source of cash flow and help prevent Putin from circumventing the punishing sanctions that the U.S. and our allies have imposed to pressure Russia to bring an end to this terrible war,” Collins said in a statement.
Russian oil and gas were largely exempted from early sanctions, although Western allies blocked a soon-to-open gas pipeline from Russia to Germany after the invasion. Russia typically provides about 8 percent of the world’s oil supply. More than two dozen countries agreed earlier this week to release emergency oil reserves in light of rising prices due to the war.
King, an independent who caucuses with Democrats, noted Thursday that while Russian imports are not a big part of the U.S. oil supply, shutting off imports would still be enough to affect prices. But he told reporters Thursday it was worth it in the short term to weaken Russia.
“There’s no war that has no price and so we have to understand that is going to be potentially one of the costs, at least for the short term,” King said.
The U.S. relies on Russian energy less than some countries, in part because of domestic energy production. Rep. Jared Golden, a Democrat from the 2nd District, called on the Biden administration to tighten sanctions Thursday, including banning imports, to cut off oil and gas revenue. He also said in a statement that Biden should further work with energy producers here to increase production and tamp down rising gas prices.
Rep. Chellie Pingree, a Democrat from the 1st District who has been a proponent of renewable energy, said short-term production increases should not get in the way of investments in cleaner alternatives. But she said in an interview the “emergency situation” merited changing course to stop the flow of money to Russia while keeping long-term energy goals in mind.
“We’re in a dangerous time and we have to do whatever we can,” she said.