By Jeffrey May, J.D.
The heads of the Senate and House Judiciary Committees have asked Makan Delrahim, Assistant Attorney General in charge of the Department of Justice Antitrust Division, for his views on proposed legislation that would make it easier for the Justice Department to sue members of oil-producing cartels for antitrust violations. In an August 20, 2018, letter to the antitrust chief, Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) and House Judiciary Committee Chairmen Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.) contended that the Antitrust Division's support could help the passage of the No Oil Producing and Exporting Cartels Act (NOPEC).
The NOPEC bill would open up OPEC countries to federal antitrust enforcement by rendering the act of state and sovereign immunity doctrines inapplicable in government cartel cases. According to the senators, the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) controls 82 percent of the world’s proven oil reserves. OPEC and non-OPEC countries agreed in April 2018 to continue a deal they struck in 2016 limiting production, it was noted.
The proposal has strong bipartisan and bicameral support, according to the senators. The House Judiciary Committee approved NOPEC (H.R. 5904) in June. The Senate bill (S. 3214) was introduced in July.
Similar legislation has been introduced in Congress over the last two decades. The House passed a version in 2007.
There is speculation that this time the measure could pass both houses and be signed by the President. The senators pointed out that President Trump has tweeted about his frustrations over the OPEC cartel and that Delrahim has suggested that cartel members should not be treated differently based solely on their connection to a national government. However, concerns have been raised that such legislation could have political and foreign relations ramifications.
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