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Responsible Helium Administration and Stewardship Act

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC


Mr. HASTINGS of Washington. I thank the gentleman for bringing this amendment to the floor, and I intend to support it. With our fiscal situation in this country, this is a good addition to the amendment; and I thank the gentleman for bringing it forward.


Mr. HASTINGS of Washington. I yield myself 2 minutes.

Mr. Chairman, I oppose this amendment.

While it is being sold as an attempt to protect contract and property rights, it does none of these things because there are no rights that are violated by this bill.

What the amendment actually does is undermine the free-market competition that is embodied in H.R. 527 that will ensure a fair return to taxpayers on the Federal helium that is in the repository.

This amendment seeks to guarantee a special carve-out for primarily three companies and thus block competition. For over a decade, these three companies have profited from helium handouts at low market prices that were granted to them by BLM. All of that ends, Mr. Chairman, in October of this year. These handouts end because the contracts say that when the money is paid back that the Federal Government has invested, these contracts end.

So this amendment does not protect existing valid contracts because they expire in October. What the amendment actually would do is revise the expiring special handouts of these three companies. The amendment would shut down competition from other bidders who may be willing to bid for a higher price of the helium.

I have a letter from three companies who jointly express strong opposition because it would prevent them in the future from bidding on this helium. And to be clear, there are no helium distributors or manufacturers of helium who are advocating for this amendment. It is just the three refiners.

To repeat, H.R. 527 does not alter or end existing contracts. In the actual clauses of these contracts, it specifically stated that the contracts are contingent upon BLM continuing to have authorization to run the reserves. That ends in October.

BLM has been selling helium at below-market prices, and I'll point that out later. But what this amendment really attempts to do is to end what should not be done.

With that, I reserve the balance of my time.


Mr. HASTINGS of Washington. I yield myself the balance of my time.

The assertion is made that this violates contracts. I want to be very specific: current law says that when the debt is paid back, the contracts that are entered into expire. Therefore, we are not violating any contracts because on October 1 that will happen.

Secondly, the pricing mechanism. I pointed out in opening remarks that the three refiners are the ones that are benefiting, and this chart shows how. This is what they are paying, the blue line. That's the bottom line. The red line is the market price. The yellow in between is what the refiners are accruing as far as profits are concerned. We're simply saying the market ought to dictate who gets that benefit, and that's precisely what H.R. 527 does. So this amendment simply prolongs the yellow, if you will, on this chart longer, and only three companies benefit by that. I don't think that's good for the taxpayers because the taxpayers are the ones that are failing or getting the low end of the deal with that yellow line.

So while I understand where the gentleman is coming from, and I respect him for bringing this issue to the floor--it is good to have a debate on it--no contracts are violated under current law. I urge my colleagues to reject this amendment.

I yield back the balance of my time.


Mr. HASTINGS of Washington. Mr. Chairman, I yield myself as much time as I may consume.

I want to start by saying that the development of this legislation has truly been a bipartisan effort. I want to thank my colleague from New Jersey, who has been a leader in helping us bring this legislation to the floor.

One of the main goals of H.R. 527 is to stop the imminent shutdown of the Federal helium program this October by establishing a new program to complete the privatization of the helium reserve. However, this action remains only a Band-Aid to our long-term helium supply.

Helium, like many other resources, is something that requires significant investment and development to bring to market. While this bill will keep the helium flowing from the reserve, the future of the reserve is limited to only a handful of years. So the gentleman's amendment is really a question of what do we do next, and that's a good question.

The idea that, when the reserve closes, America could be left at the mercy of Qatar or Russia for securing our domestic helium is not a prospect that we relish any more than being dependent on China for rare Earth materials. And yet no one thinks that the solution is for the government to jump back into the helium business. Instead, we need to continue our focus on this issue to prevent resource scarcity that could threaten our manufacturing and national security.

While I understand there have been some initial conversations, I want to make it clear that this is not the last time that the committee will focus on the issue of helium. It is my intention that the committee examine other areas where we may be able to expand helium supply or promote additional steps for conservation.

The report directed to be developed in this bill will help guide our effort forward, and the gentleman's amendment will add additional important questions to help provide us a path forward. But it is up to us to act and continue to focus on what is a critical national security and economic security concern: a secure, stable supply of helium.

So I look forward to continuing to work with the gentleman from New Jersey as we seek these solutions, and I think his amendment adds to that prospect.

With that, I support the amendment and yield back the balance of my time.


Mr. HASTINGS of Washington. I thank the gentleman for bringing this amendment to the floor. He made the observation in his debate that this is something that we were talking about in the previous debate, because we're going to have to have more helium; and market forces, I believe, are one way to do that, and I think his amendment addresses that.

I support the amendment.


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