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Responsible Helium Administration and Stewardship Act

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC


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

I rise in support of H.R. 527, and I begin by commending and thanking Chairman Hastings for his outstanding bipartisan leadership on this legislation and on other things before the committee. This bill was drafted in close cooperation with the Democratic minority, and I thank the chairman of the committee. He worked with Ranking Member Markey and me and with Representative Flores; and we've put together, I think, a solid piece of legislation. The legislation is an example of how we can work together. I wish it were moving faster on the floor today and tomorrow, but it is a cooperative undertaking.

As the chairman said, helium is critical for magnetic resonance imaging, MRI machines; for NASA rocket operation; for high-tech manufacturing; and for all sorts of scientific research. For many of these applications, there is no replacement for helium with its truly unique properties. Farsighted legislators established a Federal stockpile many decades ago, which was good; and as important uses of helium were recognized over the decades, we can be thankful that the stockpile existed.

The frenzy of privatization under the Gingrich era in Congress has now made this legislation necessary. Our Nation's Federal Helium Reserve supplies nearly half of the helium used in the United States; and if Congress fails to pass this legislation, by the end of the current fiscal year, the Interior Department's authority to continue operating the Reserve will expire. If this is allowed to happen, nearly half of America's helium supply would be cut off overnight, creating truly a crisis in health care, in research, in electronic manufacturing, and in many other areas. That's the immediate problem that this legislation would solve; but there is a second, potentially more severe, problem to be addressed.

At the current withdrawal rates, we have only 5 to 7 years of helium available from the Reserve. Reviews by the National Academy of Sciences, by the Government Accountability Office, and by the Interior Department Inspector General's Office have all concluded that we are not selling the Nation's helium at market prices. Since Federal helium comprises such an enormous percentage of the global supply, with the price set and controlled by the Interior Department as required under the guidelines established some years back, the global price of helium is artificially low.

The current system isn't just a bad deal for taxpayers; it has also distorted the global helium market. If we continue to avoid a solution, as some have advocated, we could find ourselves facing even more severe helium shortages and price spikes when the Federal Reserve is largely exhausted a few years from now and when there may be insufficient alternative supplies to turn to.

That's why we must reform our Nation's helium policy, put the market-based signals in place that will help provide an incentive to bring new supplies on line. The failure to enact reforms of the helium program, such as those contained in this legislation, could mean an increased reliance on insecure and irregular helium supplies from Russia, Algeria, Qatar, and other foreign sources. It could mean higher prices for American industry and for researchers.

There have already been interruptions in supply. National labs have testified before our committee that helium deliveries necessary for their research have already been subject to interruptions.

The bipartisan legislation before us today would address both of these impending crises. H.R. 527 would extend the life of the Federal Helium Reserve past the end of this year and ensure a fair return to taxpayers on this federally-owned resource. It would generate more than $300 million for American taxpayers as estimated by the Congressional Budget Office. The bill will increase competition, transparency, and participation in helium markets, which will help shift commercial helium reliance from the Reserve to private sources.

The principles of this bill are consistent with the recommendations made by the National Academy of Sciences in 2010 to improve the helium program by expanding participation and openness in helium markets.

It will protect Federal users, such as NASA and the National Labs, as well as the scientific community by ensuring that they have priority access to this federally-owned resource in the short term and exclusive access in the longer term.

This bill was created with input from the Department of the Interior, the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, and many scientific researchers. It has the support of the American Physical Society and many other groups and many helium users, such as corporations like General Electric, Siemens, Philips, Intel, Applied Materials, Dow Chemical, IBM, Texas Instruments, and many others. It's a product of close work between the majority and the minority members of the committee.

Again, I thank the majority for providing that collaboration with us. It's a good bill. It provides a workable solution to a real problem. I urge its adoption.

I wish we could deal with this bill promptly and all the amendments promptly. We could be done in less than an hour, and then we could turn our attention to other concerns that Americans have, such as jobs and education, training for workers, a conference committee to reconcile the differences between the House and the Senate budget resolutions, removing the thoughtless sequester that the majority imposed on the country affecting air traffic control and food inspections and Head Start slots and medical research and many other things. But instead, we will postpone the consideration of the amendments until tomorrow, I'm sorry to say, and eat up valuable time that we could spend dealing with America's pressing problems. Nevertheless, I look forward to the passage of this bill, and I urge my colleagues to support it.

With that, I reserve the balance of my time.


Mr. HOLT. Mr. Chairman, I appreciate the comments of the gentleman from Colorado, the chair of the Energy and Mineral Subcommittee. He reiterates the important uses of helium, and I would add that any American patient or doctor who uses MRIs, which depend on helium, or any American who uses modern electronics whose manufacture depends on helium, or anyone who depends on so many other things for which helium is essential, should be grateful that decades ago farsighted legislators created the stockpile to preserve helium.

We now have before us the need to make sure that helium isn't sold at fire-sale prices. We need to make sure that we have a reliable supply for these important uses. We need to make sure that the Interior Department is not forced out of the business prematurely. The Interior Department has expressed support for the approach taken by this legislation.

Again, I commend and thank the chairman for his bipartisan leadership to bring this sensible legislation to the floor. I hope that the other body will act quickly and follow our lead and pass this legislation so we do not experience supply disruptions and price spikes later this year. I urge passage of this bill.

I yield back the balance of my time.


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