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Responsible Helium Administration and Stewardship Act

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC


Mr. TONKO. Mr. Chairman, I thank Representative Holt. I want to thank Chairman Hastings and Representative Markey and Representative Holt and other members of the Natural Resources Committee for working steadfastly together to bring this important bill to the floor.

The Federal Helium Reserve was created in 1925, long before today's many uses of helium were envisioned. Now this element has become an essential ingredient to our Nation's research, medical, technology, manufacturing, space, and defense activities. Helium is used in welding and in the manufacturing of fiber optic cable and semiconductors. Medical imaging has become a vital tool in the health care system, and every MRI requires helium. The list of applications for this element is long and touches many important industries.

When the current law passed in 1996, the situation with respect to helium's value and usage was quite different, and there was an expectation that additional private sources of helium would be developed and then of course enter the market. For a variety of reasons, that has not yet happened on a sufficient enough scale to ensure a stable supply of helium to meet our national demand for this basic element.

The Federal Government, through the Bureau of Land Management, needs to remain engaged in this market for an additional period of time. The United States reserve is about 40 percent of the worldwide supply of helium. The many industries and research institutions that rely on helium cannot afford a disruption in its supply.

The national storage facility is unique, and there are many characteristics of the helium market that are distinctly different from the markets of most commodities. These factors are likely the reasons a more robust private supply of helium has not yet emerged to replace our Federal Government's role. H.R. 527 provides additional time to phase down the Federal Government's role in the helium market and to allow a private market to develop.

There is no substitute for helium in many of its crucial applications. Passage of this legislation is critical to maintaining high-wage, high-skilled jobs in my district, the 20th Congressional District of New York, throughout New York State for that matter, and in many other States across our great country. It is essential that we work with the Senate to get a law signed this year to provide certainty to helium suppliers and users.

I recognize there are some who are uncomfortable with certain aspects of this legislation. It is not a perfect bill, and if the expected development of private supplies of helium does not occur, we need to revisit this issue in the future.

For the present, though, this bill offers a reasonable compromise that keeps helium flowing onto the market, and that is what we need now. I urge my colleagues to support H.R. 527 and maintain a reliable supply of this vital ingredient for the sake of research and industry.


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