Energy and Natural Resources Committee Chairman Ron Wyden, D-Ore., and Ranking Member Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, today released a draft of legislation that would prevent a shortage in the global helium supply by ensuring access to the Federal Helium Reserve for helium-dependent industries, including manufacturing, the medical community and federal research programs.
The Helium Stewardship Act of 2013 would allow the Federal Helium Reserve to continue operating under the current system through September 30, 2014. The bill would establish an auction of 10 percent of the helium in the reserve, beginning in the 2015 fiscal year, with an additional 10 percentage points added to the auction every year, ensuring a smooth transition away from federal ownership.
"Ensuring access to the federal helium supply is critical to manufacturers, the medical community and employers across the country," Wyden said. "Senator Murkowski and I welcome input as we continue to work on this legislation that will provide market certainty for users and ensure the taxpayers receive their fair share of the revenue from the sale of crude helium."
"It's important that the committee urgently address this matter to avoid a potential helium supply disruption," Murkowski said. "It's my hope that interested parties will share their thoughts on our discussion draft and we'll be able to introduce a bill in the near future. I am confident that, continuing to work with Chairman Wyden, we can develop legislation that avoids further disruption of the helium supply, provides a fair return to taxpayers, and provides clear guidance for management of the Reserve as it is depleted."
Under current law, the Federal Helium Reserve would be unable to serve non-federal customers once the program's debt is retired. The Federal Helium Reserve supplies about 40 percent of domestic and 30 percent of world helium demand. The reserve is expected to have enough revenue to repay its debt to the federal government -- and end sales to private customers -- sometime this fiscal year. At this point in time, there are limited supply alternatives for helium and the abrupt closure of the reserve to commercial customers would disrupt major parts of the U.S. economy.
The senators are seeking comments on their proposal to extend the operation of the Federal Helium Reserve. They expect to introduce the legislation this spring.