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Public Statements

Statements on Introduced Bills and Joint Resolutions

Floor Speech

By:
Date:
Location: Washington, DC

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Mr. BINGAMAN. Mr. President, I am pleased to introduce the Helium Stewardship Act of 2012, along with my cosponsors, Senators Barrasso, Wyden, and Enzi. This bipartisan bill addresses the need for ongoing stewardship of the nation's helium reserve in Amarillo, Texas. The helium reserve is not only a domestic treasure, but it also provides nearly 30 percent of the world's helium.

Helium is a commodity that is frequently overlooked and often only considered when you are going to the florist to purchase party balloons for your child's birthday party. I want to take a moment and highlight the importance of this commodity, as well as the importance of the U.S. helium reserve in the world's helium market.

Helium is critical to a wide range of industrial, scientific, and medical markets, including medical devices such as MRIs, industrial welding, high tech manufacturing of microchips and fiber optic cables, manufacturing magnets for wind turbines, space exploration at NASA, and other important scientific research that is conducted at national laboratories like those in my State.

The current sales and management structure for the helium reserve is distorting the private helium market and threatening helium supplies for Federal medical and scientific research, and other private commercial applications. The low government sales price is also a barrier to the development of private sources of helium. But more importantly, if Congress does not act, the helium program will disappear altogether in less than three years, leaving our hospitals, national labs, domestic manufacturers, and helium producers high and dry.

This bipartisan bill will address these issues by authorizing prudent helium sales and management beyond 2015 and securing private access to Federal supplies. It will also allow for the continued repayment of the national debt by selling helium at fair market prices--providing a good return on investment to the American taxpayer. This will bolster the private helium sector, and help to create long-term jobs in this American resource sector, as well as ensure the continued success of domestic manufacturers that utilize helium in their manufacturing process.

Finally, this bill will ensure secure access to helium for our national labs, scientific researchers, NASA, medical institutions, and universities, who rely on helium to push the boundaries of science and technology here in the USA. In particular, as the reserve is sold off, a 15 year supply of helium will be set aside exclusively for Federal researchers to guarantee continuity of our research programs as we transition to purely private sources of helium.

The bill is based on stakeholder input of the National Academies of Science, Bureau of Land Management staff, scientific researchers, high-tech manufacturers, and the private helium industry to address the most pressing problems facing Federal helium users and the helium industry today.

I would like to conclude by taking a moment to acknowledge the exceptional efforts of Dr. Marcius Extavour who was the AAAS Science policy fellow and physicist working on the Energy and Natural Resources Committee last year. He worked diligently to help craft this important piece of legislation and I thank him for his efforts.

Mr. President, I ask unanimous consent that the text of the bill be printed in the Record.

There being no objection, the text of the bill was ordered to be printed in the RECORD,

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Mr. BINGAMAN. Mr. President, I rise today to introduce the Columbine-Hondo Wilderness Act which will designate approximately 45,000 acres in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains in northern New Mexico as wilderness. I am pleased that my colleague, Senator Tom Udall, is a cosponsor of this legislation.

Located in the Carson National Forest in Taos County, the Columbine-Hondo is one of the last remaining segments of this high alpine ecosystem to receive permanent wilderness protection. The concept of wilderness has deep roots and a long history in the Carson National Forest. For example, in the early 1900s, Aldo Leopold, known as the father of wilderness, spent his early career in the Forest Service in the Carson where he quickly reached the post of Forest Supervisor. There is no doubt that he spent much time traveling through this landscape that likely helped cultivate his thoughts on the importance of wilderness.

Leopold's concept of wilderness evolved over time and heavily influenced policy makers and the growing conservation community. He wrote, ``Wilderness is the raw material out of which man has hammered the artifact called civilization....... To the laborer in the sweat of his labor, the raw stuff on his anvil is an adversary to be conquered. So was wilderness an adversary to the pioneer. But to the laborer in repose, able for the moment to cast a philosophical eye on his world, that same raw stuff is something to be loved and cherished, because it gives definition and meaning to his life.'' One person who shared that definition and meaning with Aldo Leopold was former New Mexico Senator Clinton P. Anderson. In fact, due in large part to the conversations he had with Leopold forty years earlier, Senator Anderson led the effort in Congress to pass the Wilderness Act of 1964.

In that 1964 Act, the Wheeler Peak Wilderness became the first wilderness area in the Carson National Forest, which lies just south of the Columbine-Hondo area. Shortly thereafter in 1970, the Taos Pueblo-Blue Lake Wilderness, adjacent to Wheeler Peak, was established, further demonstrating that the idea of wilderness is a valuable concept to Indian tribes wishing to protect their most sacred sites for future generations. Another decade had to pass before Congress protected additional lands in New Mexico as wilderness in 1980, including the Latir Peak Wilderness, north of the Columbine-Hondo. In that same Act, the Columbine-Hondo was designated as a Wilderness Study Area to allow Congress further time to review the merits of designating this area as wilderness.

Aldo Leopold laments in A Sand County Almanac that progress in conservation is slow--a fact that hasn't changed much in modern times. ``Despite nearly a century of propaganda,'' he wrote, ``conservation still proceeds at a snail's pace.'' In this context, it is unfortunately not surprising that it has taken Congress over 30 years to review the merits of the Columbine-Hondo Wilderness Study Area.

But the time to permanently protect the Columbine-Hondo is now before us. After many years of hard work by local community leaders, a nearly unanimous consensus has formed in support of protecting this landscape as wilderness. This is due to the longstanding recognition by the surrounding communities and their residents of the benefits that wilderness provides them. The mountains provide communities with clean air and act as a watershed, providing them with fresh and clean water. Sportsmen benefit from the protection of quality habitat that will ensure the elk, deer, and antelope found in the mountains and the fish in the mountain streams will continue to thrive. Communities like the Towns of Taos and Red River and the Villages of Questa and Taos Ski Valley can find economic benefits by attracting visitors seeking opportunities for solitude and quiet recreation, including hiking, birding, horseback riding, and even the occasional llama trekking. And community members can create job opportunities through outfitting and other service industries to assist residents and visitors alike explore these gateways to a more primitive era.

Wilderness also ensures that the way of life of many local ranchers will remain protected from threats like mining or disruptive off-road vehicle use. Local mountain biking coalitions have also recognized that a balance can be reached to protect wilderness values while making practical and common sense boundary adjustments that will help promote sustainable mountain biking opportunities in the region.

During my tenure in the Senate, it has been relatively uncommon to find such overwhelming support for the establishment of a new wilderness area. I commend the dedication and perseverance exhibited by the many local wilderness advocates who have devoted many years to see this effort come to fruition. Without their help, it may have taken another decade before Congress addressed this long outstanding matter. Congress has had 32 years now to review the designation of the Columbine-Hondo Wilderness. With such broad support having been developed, I urge my colleagues to support this initiative to protect this area without further delay.

Mr. President, I ask unanimous consent that the text of the bill be printed in the Record.

There being no objection, the text of the bill was ordered to be printed in the Record,

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