American politicians are at it again: punching OPEC.

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by staff ()

American politicians are at it again: punching OPEC.

The cartel has often been a bogeyman for U.S. politicians since the first oil crisis in 1973. Now OPEC is facing a renewed political assault in Washington, directly from President Trump’s Twitter account, and quietly, but potentially more dangerously, from Congress.

In books and social media postings going back 30 years, Trump has repeatedly attacked the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries, saying oil prices should be around $30 a barrel and arguing OPEC was stealing money from American citizens.

The president’s track record is important now because U.S. lawmakers have resurrected the so-called "No Oil Producing and Exporting Cartels Act," or NOPEC, which proposes making the cartel subject to the Sherman antitrust law, used more than a century ago to break up the oil empire of John Rockefeller.

The bill was re-introduced in late May and cleared its first legislative hurdle last week when the House Judiciary Committee quickly sent it to floor deliberation. It would allow the U.S. government to sue OPEC for manipulating the energy market, potentially seeking billions of dollars in reparations.

For OPEC, which meets later this week in Vienna to discuss oil production, the bill is a fat-tail risk. The chances that it passes are small, but if it happened the consequences would be enormous. For some, the NOPEC bill stands comparison with the Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act, or JASTA, which for the first time permitted lawsuits against Saudi Arabia over the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

U.S. politicians have tried several times since 2000 to pass the NOPEC bill, but the White House opposed it -- both George W. Bush and Barack Obama threatened to use their veto. The risk for OPEC is that Trump may break with his predecessors.

"Unlike past presidents, Trump is much more likely to sign it," said Jason Bordoff, director of the Center on Global Energy Policy at Columbia University in New York and a former Obama administration oil official