By Timothy Gardner
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A senior Trump administration official said on Friday that U.S. national security depends on affordable energy, and slammed cartels when asked if President Donald Trump would support a bill targeting the OPEC production group's oil supply cuts.
”The United States is firmly committed to open, fair, and competitive markets for global energy trade," said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity. "We do not support market-distorting behavior, including cartels.”
The House of Representatives' Judiciary Committee on Thursday unanimously passed the No Oil Producing and Exporting Cartels, or NOPEC, bill, but it was uncertain whether it would get a vote in the full House.
The legislation would change U.S. antitrust law to revoke the sovereign immunity that has long protected OPEC members from U.S. lawsuits. It allows the U.S. attorney general to sue the oil producers group, any of its members and countries it works with, on grounds of collusion.
A similar bill was introduced in the Senate on Thursday by Senators Chuck Grassley, a Republican backer of the corn-based motor fuel ethanol, and Amy Klobuchar, a Democrat who is expected to announce on Sunday that she is running for president in 2020.
Senator John Cornyn of Texas has opposed NOPEC measures in the past. A policy analyst said other lawmakers in Texas were also unlikely to support the bill as Motiva Enterprises LLC
The Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries, which includes the world's top crude exporter Saudi Arabia, says it is not a cartel but rather a production group.
Trump has criticized the group for cutting supplies and urged it to produce more to lower global oil prices. But Trump has taken no action on Saudi Arabia, a major buyer of U.S. weapons, even after the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul last year.
The bill has appeared in Congress in various forms over the last 20 years and today's oil prices are low compared to 2008, when the bill passed the House.
The senior official's comments were the furthest the Trump administration has gone in commenting on the bill. “Access to affordable and reliable energy underpins global economic growth and U.S. national security,” the official added.
Last summer, OPEC cooperated with non-OPEC producer Russia to boost output before Trump reimposed sanctions on oil exports from Iran, Saudi Arabia's archenemy. But OPEC's output fell in January by the largest amount in two years as its Gulf members over-delivered on a supply cutting plan to boost prices and amid the Iran sanctions.
(Reporting by Timothy Gardner; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama, Jonathan Oatis and David Gregorio)