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Responsible Helium Administration and Stewardship Act

Floor Speech

By:
Date:
Location: Washington, DC

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Mr. HOLT. Mr. Chairman, I thank the chairman of the committee again for bringing forward this bipartisan legislation, and I rise in strong opposition to this amendment.

The Federal Helium Reserve is in rapid decline. It is being exhausted. At the current drawdown rate, in 5 or 6 or 7 years the helium in the reserve will be largely depleted.

The amendment by Mr. Dent seeks to run out the clock on this legislation to allow the existing regime to stand and prevent the reforms that H.R. 527 would bring forward. H.R. 527 does not alter or end the contracts that the refiners have with the Bureau of Land Management, but if we do nothing and allow the gentleman's amendment to go forward, under existing law and terms of those contracts, the entire helium program would come to an end in October of 2013--this year.

The amendment would delay the implementation of the reforms in the bill until 2018 at which time it is likely there would be little helium left to distribute to anyone, to the hospitals and the doctors who need it, to the electronics manufacturers who need it, to the scientists and researchers who need it. This amendment would gut the bipartisan reforms of the bill, and it should be defeated.

Although the gentleman claims he wants to prevent disruption in the supply, by preventing this legislation, he would in fact do just that. He would create disruptions in the supply.

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Mr. HOLT. Mr. Chairman, I yield myself such time as I may consume.

My amendment is quite simple. It would expand the study section of the act to provide an assessment of how the eventual closure of the Federal Helium Reserve would influence the availability of this critical resource in the future.

Let me take just a moment to say a little bit about why this is important. Helium is the second-lightest gas in existence. It remains liquid down to absolute zero. It is chemically very inert. It is hardly soluble in water or other fluids. It can be made into a quantum superfluid that flows without any viscous resistance at all. These are unique properties that make helium invaluable, necessary, irreplaceable for uses in magnetic resonance imaging in doctors' offices and hospitals, for fabricating electronic devices, for all sorts of research, whether it be in quantum computing or superfluids in any number of other areas.

Why is this a policy issue worthy of the consideration of the U.S. Congress? Well, because this invaluable, irreplaceable element is very rare on Earth. It is in fact the second most common element in the universe, but it has long since risen up through the atmosphere of the Earth and vanished into space. And small amounts of helium are created moment by moment deep in the Earth through radioactive decay caught in natural gas reserves, along with methane and the other things that we call natural gas. But it is rare, and it is difficult to separate, and yet we need it.

Farsighted legislators three-quarters of a century ago began stockpiling helium. They thought it would be used for dirigibles and blimps. They weren't sure what else it would be used for, but they understood helium had some very special properties.

It was a good investment for taxpayers. It was a very good investment for taxpayers that this stockpile was created.

Now the stockpile is running low because of decisions by Congress in past years. It's important that, as we make the decisions and the changes that we make with this legislation, we not fail to recognize possible future uses, possible future demands, and possible failure of the market to provide an adequate supply of helium to meet those demands.

I know there is an ideology that's prevalent around here for any commodity, for any human need, that the market will provide. In fact, it doesn't always. And in this case, in the helium over the decades, it would not have, had it not been for the Federal Reserve. So it is important that we stop and take a look at the implications for the future.

And so my amendment would simply expand the study section that already exists in this legislation to make sure that we look at possible future uses, likely future supplies, and making sure that we are prepared to have an adequate supply of this valuable resource into the future. It should be a noncontroversial amendment. I hope it will be unopposed, and I urge my colleagues to support it.

I reserve the balance of my time.

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Mr. HOLT. I thank my friend from Texas, and I think the gentleman's amendment is a good one. It will clarify that producers of helium may connect to the Federal helium reserve to store helium. And by seeking to provide incentives for additional production and storage, I think his amendment will provide a public service.

I think, as the gentleman has said, we should examine ways that we can use the reserve to maximize the American supply of helium in the decades ahead. So I support him in this, and I urge all of my colleagues to do so.

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