Opening Statement by Chairman Bingaman
"I am pleased convene this hearing on S. 2374, the Helium Stewardship Act of 2012. Senators Barrasso, Wyden, Enzi and Casey have also sponsored this bill. It's a bipartisan bill that 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 purchasing balloons for parties. Let me 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 of magnets for wind turbines, space exploration at NASA, and many other important scientific research activities that are conducted at laboratories around the country.
"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 for private commercial applications. The low government sales price is also a barrier to developing private sources of helium. 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 without an adequate supply.
"This bipartisan bill addresses these issues by authorizing prudent helium sales and management beyond 2015 and securing private access to Federal supplies. It also will allow for the continued repayment of the national debt by selling helium at fair market prices. This will bolster the private helium sector and help to create long-term jobs in this industrial sector, and ensure the continued success of domestic manufacturers that use helium in their processes.
"Finally, S. 2374 will ensure secure access to helium for all of those who use it. 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, the Bureau of Land Management staff, the various scientific researchers, high-tech manufacturers and the private helium.
"I would like to conclude by acknowledging the exceptional efforts of both Allyson Anderson and Marcius Extavour, two former committee staffers who worked diligently to help craft this important piece of legislation.