CREATING LONG-TERM ENERGY ALTERNATIVES FOR THE NATION ACT OF 2007--Continued -- (Senate - June 19, 2007)
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Mr. KOHL. Madam President, I rise at this time with 13 cosponsors to urge all of my colleagues to support our bipartisan no-OPEC amendment to the Energy bill. This amendment will hold OPEC member nations to account under U.S. antitrust law when they agree to limit supply or fix prices in violation of the most basic principles of free competition.
In addition to the 13 cosponsors of this amendment today, companion House legislation passed the other body last month by an overwhelming 345-to-72 vote. This amendment will authorize the Justice Department, and only the Justice Department, to file suit against nations or other entities that participate in a conspiracy to limit supply or fix the price of oil.
We have longed decried OPEC, but sadly no one in Government has yet tried to take any action. This amendment will, for the first time, establish clearly and plainly that when a group of competing oil producers, such as the OPEC nations, act together to restrict supply or to set prices, then they will be violating U.S. law.
As we consider the high price of gas, one fact has remained consistent: the price of crude oil and, in turn, gasoline dances to the tune set by the OPEC members.
Referring to the 18-percent rise in worldwide crude oil prices since the start of the year, OPEC's president commented:
We did have a bad situation at the beginning of the year, but it is much better now.
The difference was OPEC's decision last fall to enforce combined output cuts of 1.7 billion barrels of oil a day in order to drive up the price of crude oil. Just last week, OPEC refused to add more oil supply to the market despite the International Energy Agency's urgent call for new supplies to meet rising demand.
While OPEC enjoys its newfound riches, the average American consumer suffers every time he or she visits the gas pump or pays a home heating bill. Gas prices have now increased 71 cents a gallon just since the start of the year, to a current national average of $3.01 per gallon, an increase of more than 30 percent.
The Federal Trade Commission has estimated that 85 percent of the variability in the cost of gasoline is the result of changes in the cost of crude oil. If private companies engaged in such an international price-fixing conspiracy, there would be no question it would be illegal. The actions of OPEC should be treated no differently because it is a conspiracy of nations.
The amendment will not authorize private lawsuits, but it will authorize the Justice Department to file suit under the antitrust laws for redress. It will always be at the discretion of the Justice Department and the President as to whether to take action against OPEC.
Our amendment will not require the Government to bring legal action against OPEC member nations. This decision will entirely remain in the discretion of the executive branch.
I believe the Senate should now join the 345 of our colleagues in the House and vote to support this legislation.
I reserve the remainder of my time.
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Mr. KOHL. Madam President, I believe the arguments set forth by the administration, as well as those on the floor today in opposition to this bill, are without merit. For example, we disagree that it would harm U.S. interests overseas.
The Justice Department has taken action to sue many foreign cartels that have engaged in price fixing, including, for example, the international vitamin cartel. There has been no retaliation against U.S. business interests abroad.
Only 11 Nations in the world are members of the OPEC oil cartel. There would be no reason for any other Nation to retaliate against the United States for attempting to enforce this legislation. The idea that OPEC could strongly discourage investment in the U.S. economy is likewise speculative and without basis. The existence of strong U.S. antitrust laws for over a century, laws that are already reaching foreign conduct affecting the U.S. markets, has not discouraged investment in the United States.
Further, and this is enormously important, this legislation does not require the administration to do anything. It simply gives them the authority to bring action in court against the OPEC oil cartel. It seems to me the legislation would have a constructive effect in bringing notice to the OPEC oil cartel that we do have recourse, should it be necessary, to move against them in retaliation of their fixing prices of oil at unreasonably high levels.
That is why I believe this legislation should be passed by this body as it was passed by the House of Representatives.
I yield back the remainder of our time.
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AMENDMENT NO. 1519
The PRESIDING OFFICER. Under the previous order, there will now be 2 minutes of debate equally divided on amendment No. 1519 offered by the Senator from Wisconsin.
The Senator from Wisconsin is recognized.
Mr. KOHL. Mr. President, I urge my colleagues to join me and our 13 cosponsors in voting in favor of our OPEC amendment. This amendment will declare price fixing by the OPEC oil cartel illegal under our antitrust laws and will give our Government a much needed weapon to combat the illegal actions of the OPEC cartel that harms consumers every time they visit the gas pump.
Contrary to the fears of the opponents of this amendment, this amendment will not harm either our foreign relations or foreign investment in the United States. Enforcement of NOPEC is reserved exclusively to the Justice Department. Should the administration deem it imprudent to take action against NOPEC, then it need not do so. It is long past time for us to have the ability, should our Government decide to do so, to take legal action to fight back against the OPEC conspiracy on behalf of American consumers.
So I urge my colleagues to join 345 House Members who last month voted in huge numbers in favor of NOPEC.
I yield the remainder of my time.