Cantwell Legislation to Expose Illegal Oil Trade with Iran Clears Key Committee

Measure was part of bipartisan effort to shut down loopholes in Iranian sanctions

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, the Senate Banking Committee unanimously approved legislation authored by U.S. Senator Maria Cantwell (D-WA) included in the Iran Sanctions, Accountability and Human Rights Act. The measure directs the President to publically expose the companies selling oil and petroleum to Iran in violation of U.S. sanctions. The Iran measure – which will now move forward for full Senate consideration – is based on a bipartisan bill (S.2058) that Senator Cantwell introduced this week along with Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) and 15 other original cosponsors.

Cantwell’s legislation requires the Government Accountability Office (GAO) produce a report to Congress, every 180 days, describing the movements of both crude oil and refined petroleum products to and from Iran and to make public the names of companies and individuals involved in this trade with Iran. Cantwell’s provision would also shine light on an existing loophole by requiring the identities of companies participating in swaps to also be made public, which isn’t currently a violation of sanctions. The only difference between what the Banking Committee adopted today and S.2058 is that the reporting requirement was transferred from the GAO to the President. The Cantwell-Murkowski legislation would also bar companies who engage in business or trading activity with Iran from buying oil from America’s Strategic Petroleum Reserve; however, that provision was not made part of the larger Iran Sanctions, Accountability and Human Rights Act. 

“Oil and refined petroleum products are arguably the Achilles’ heel of the Iranian regime,” Cantwell said. “Exposing the names of sanction violators will help shut down this trade and the resulting revenues Iran is using to fund its nuclear program. This is critical to determining whether our existing sanctions regime is adequately targeted or even effective.” 

There is considerable concern that some companies are flouting sanctions by continuing to trade petroleum products with Iran, effectively “backfilling” for those that have been good corporate citizens and are in compliance with U.S. law. However, this information is not easily accessible or even available to policymakers and the general public right now. Last July during a Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, Cantwell spoke in support of exposing the identities of companies selling petroleum to Iran in violation of U.S. sanctions. Click here to watch a video of Senator Cantwell speaking at the hearing. An amendment Cantwell had offered to S.916 that would expose the companies was approved unanimously by the ENR Committee last July but has yet to be considered by the full Senate.

Many experts believe that Iran continues its aggressive pursuit of nuclear weapons and remains a threat to global security. Economic sanctions, such as those of existing U.S. laws like the Comprehensive Iran Sanctions and Divestment Act (CISADA), have been effective in restricting revenue flows and pressuring Iran to give up its nuclear weapons program. The threat alone of strong U.S. sanctions has led many of the world’s leading energy companies to cut ties with Iran.

Senate Bill 2058, authored by Cantwell, chair of the Energy Subcommittee, and Murkowski, ranking member of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, was introduced on February 1, 2012 with the following original cosponsors: Dean Heller (R-NV), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Rob Portman (R-OH), John Barrasso (R-WY), John Cornyn (R-TX), Jon Kyl (R-AZ), David Vitter (R-LA), James Risch (R-ID), John Hoeven (R-ND), Mary Landrieu (D-LA), Mark Begich (D-AK), Richard Lugar (R-IN), Michael Bennet (D-CO), Robert Menendez (D-NJ), and Mike Crapo (R-ID).