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Public Statements

Responsible Helium Administration and Stewardship Act

Floor Speech

By:
Date:
Location: Washington, DC

BREAK IN TRANSCRIPT

Mr. DENT. Mr. Chairman, our amendment, the Dent-Higgins-Esty amendment, ensures the continued supply of helium for end users while requiring the BLM, Bureau of Land Management, to honor existing contracts for the supply and delivery of this vital resource. Most importantly, the amendment protects American manufacturers who use helium from the uncertainty of a disrupted helium supply. It's absolutely essential.

Some of my colleagues have repeatedly stated that helium has been given away by BLM at rock-bottom prices to ``a monopoly of refiners.'' Respectfully, the current price structure says otherwise.

Since BLM began selling off helium under this program, during most years far less than all the helium available to be purchased was purchased. In fact, during some years, no helium was purchased at all.

If the price were really so low, wouldn't all the available helium have been purchased? Instead, the BLM price set for the purchase of crude helium has been higher than the crude price for helium purchased elsewhere in the United States. Further, there is absolutely no bar to the taxpayer getting much more revenue from helium sales today. BLM can impose higher prices for helium right now. In fact, over the past 3 years, BLM has raised its prices by 30 percent.

When the Congress in 1996 decided to privatize helium in the BLM reserve, a few companies stepped up and spent tens of millions of dollars to build a helium enrichment unit, which the BLM operates, a highly unusual public-private partnership. If there are only a few companies who refine helium out of the BLM reserve today, it is because they, and not their competitors, chose to make investments that have benefited our Nation's manufacturers and society generally.

Our amendment does not seek to preserve a so-called ``monopoly'' over our Federal helium supply. Instead, our amendment seeks to uphold these existing contract and property rights while ensuring a continued supply of helium for domestic manufacturers. In fact, many welders, the Welders Association, Welders Distributors Association, strongly support this amendment because they are deeply concerned. I'm just going to quickly read what they said. They are deeply concerned about ``the effect of the remedies fashioned in H.R. 527 on the stability of the existing market for helium particularly as they affect the ability to meet contractual obligations for product supply.''

With that, I reserve the balance of my time.

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Mr. DENT. Mr. Chairman, I just want to quickly address a few of the issues.

My friend, Mr. Holt, said that these reservoirs will be depleted. I agree. The issue is who's going to invest in an enrichment and refining facility at a reservoir that's going to be depleted in 5 years. Nobody's going to make that investment. That's really what's at issue here.

The prices of helium have gone up. BLM can charge more. Our amendment is about respecting preexisting contracts and about protecting property rights while ensuring continued supply of helium to American manufacturers.

Without this amendment, there will be a real disruption of supply for helium because they won't be contractually able to release that helium. They will be under no obligation to release it, so I think that is the greatest threat. This amendment protects the helium supply. As has been mentioned, MRIs, computer chips, and fiber optics all need this. American manufacturing needs this. Support this amendment. Vote for a helium supply. And again, vote to support our welders.

I yield back the balance of my time.

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