WASHINGTON- U.S. Senator Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Ranking Member of the Subcommittee on Antitrust, Competition Policy and Consumer Rights, introduced legislation with Senator Chuck Grassley (R-IA) and a bipartisan group of Judiciary Committee senators to let the federal government take action against price fixing by the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC). The No Oil Producing and Exporting Cartels Act, or NOPEC, would explicitly authorize the Justice Department to bring lawsuits against oil cartel members for antitrust violations. It would clarify that sovereign immunity, the “Act of State” doctrine, and certain other legal defenses can no longer prevents a court from ruling on antitrust charges brought against foreign governments for engaging in illegal pricing, production and distribution of petroleum products.

Senators Mike Lee (R-UT) and Patrick Leahy (D-VT) have cosponsored the legislation.

“Current law has made the Justice Department powerless to stop OPEC and its members from coordinating oil production to manipulate prices, driving up costs for millions of Americans. Open competition in international oil markets is critical to ensuring that American families pay fair prices at the pump. Our bipartisan legislation would allow U.S. antitrust laws to be enforced against OPEC producers, helping to ensure that U.S. gas prices are fair and affordable,” Klobuchar said.

“It’s long past time to put an end to illegal price fixing by OPEC. The oil cartel and its member countries need to know that we are committed to stopping their anti-competitive behavior. We, in the United States, have been working for years to develop our domestic clean, renewable and alternative energy resources. We’re also committed to reducing our reliance on foreign oil, especially when it’s artificially and illegally priced. Our bill shows the OPEC members we will not tolerate their flagrant antitrust violations,” Grassley said.

“If private companies engaged in the international price-fixing activities that OPEC has, there is no question they would be found guilty of illegal behavior. There is no reason that the OPEC cartel should be treated differently based on their connection to national governments,” Lee said.

“As Vermonters struggle to heat their homes through another frigid winter, it’s vital to make sure that oil prices are not artificially inflated.  I’ve long supported this legislation because it will crack down on the types of anti-competitive behavior that cause prices to spike for Vermonters trying to stay warm through winter, to use their farm equipment, or to get to their jobs or to the market.  In this new Congress I’m hopeful we will finally enact these reforms into law,” Leahy said.

OPEC is a 14-member organization that accounts for more than 80 percent of the world’s crude oil reserves. According to news reports, OPEC and Russia together agreed to cut oil production this January, distorting the global petroleum market.

Klobuchar has championed efforts to protect consumers increase competition. Earlier this month, Klobuchar introduced the Merger Enforcement Improvement Act to modernize antitrust enforcement by improving the agencies’ ability to assess the impact of merger settlements, requiring studies of new issues, adjusting merger filing fees to reflect the 21st century economy, and providing adequate funding for antitrust agencies to meet their obligations to protect American consumers. She also introduced the Consolidation Prevention and Competition Promotion Act to strengthen the current legal standard to help stop harmful consolidation that may materially lessen competition. In January, Klobuchar introduced legislation—that has 33 cosponsors—to lift the ban on Medicare negotiating for the best possible price of prescription drugs for nearly 41 million seniors enrolled in Medicare Part D. She and Grassley also introduced the bipartisan Preserve Access to Affordable Generics and Biosimilars Act to crack down on anti-competitive pay-for-delay pharmaceutical deals in which branded companies pay their generic competitors not to compete as part of a patent settlement. Klobuchar and Lee, the Chairman of the Subcommittee on Antitrust, Competition Policy and Consumer Rights, authored the Short on Competition Act to allow temporary importation of drugs that have been approved in another country with similar safety requirements and face little or no competition in the U.S.