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House votes to allow US to file suit vs. OPEC

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Bloomberg News / May 21, 2008

WASHINGTON - The House of Representatives again approved legislation that would allow the United States to sue the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries under antitrust laws.

The House approved so-called NOPEC legislation by a 324-to-84 vote yesterday. It approved a similar measure last year by a 345-to-72 vote and the Senate voted in favor of it. The measure was stripped out of an energy package after President Bush said he'd veto it because of the NOPEC language, a threat that was renewed Monday.

"The net effect would be to harm US interests abroad, discourage investment in the US economy, potentially limit the availability of gasoline, and possibly further increase fuel prices," according to a statement of administration policy issued by the White House Monday. "This title would make the United States a less desirable place for investment."

Crude oil futures prices reached a record $129.60 a barrel yesterday on the New York Mercantile Exchange. Retail gasoline prices rose to a record $3.79 a gallon this week, according to a survey by oil industry analyst Trilby Lundberg.

"I urge the majority to quit with cheap theatrics and easy votes," Representative Steve King, an Iowa Republican, said Monday. Congress should expand drilling for oil and natural gas rather than risk OPEC's shutting off supplies, he said.

Congress last week approved legislation that would suspend deliveries of oil to the Strategic Petroleum Reserve in an effort to combat high energy prices. The president, who previously expressed opposition to suspending deliveries, signed the measure Monday.

House Democrats are expected to vote today on a tax package that includes extensions of credits for energy from solar, wind, and biomass facilities.

The legislation approved yesterday also creates a task force at the Justice Department to study the competitiveness of gasoline markets, and calls for a study by the Government Accountability Office on mergers in the energy industry.

"Saudi Arabia and the other OPEC countries control nearly two thirds of the global oil trade, and prices will remain high as long as America stays addicted to oil and fails to confront its producers," House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer of Maryland said in a statement.

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