WASHINGTON (Dow Jones), Oct. 15, 2009
The U.S. House of Representatives Wednesday overwhelmingly approved a bill authorizing state and local governments to divest from companies doing business in Iran's energy sector.
By a 414-6 vote, the House passed the Iran Sanctions Enabling Act, a censure of firms such as StatoilHydro ASA (STO), Total SA (TOT) and Vitol Holdings BV, which continue to conduct energy business with the Middle-Eastern nation.
Fearing Iran is seeking to use its uranium enrichment for a nuclear weapons program, the legislation is designed to ratchet up the economic pressure on Tehran.
"These sanctions are part of an economic warfare strategy against the Iranian regime," said Foundation for Defense of Democracies Director Mark Dubowitz. It "will put the Iranian regime on notice that the U.S. will not allow negotiations to continue indefinitely."
Besides giving greater impetus for funds such as the $3.9 trillion California Public Employees' Retirement System to sell their shares in such energy companies, it also protects divesting fund managers from shareholder lawsuits.
Lawmakers in both the Senate and the House are also considering arming the administration with stronger sanction powers. Proposals largely focus on authorizing a petroleum blockade against Iran, targeting one of the country's weak points. Although the nation is one of the top producers of crude oil, its limited refining capacity means that it has to import a major chunk of its gasoline and diesel needs.
The proposed legislation would also expand the existing Iran Sanctions Act to cover a broader range of financial institutions, and extend sanctions to oil and gas pipelines, tankers and the petroleum export supply chain.
Copyright (c) 2009 Dow Jones & Company, Inc.
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