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Helium Stewardship Act of 2013

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC


Mr. HOLT. While the process of moving this legislation forward has taken some time, it has also demonstrated that Members of both parties, Members of both Houses, can work cooperatively and in good faith to reach bipartisan solutions. This is the sort of legislative action Americans want to see us undertaking.

The legislation before us is a version that none of us would write if left to our own devices. Every Member who has worked on this bill, every stakeholder affected by this bill has had to make compromises to achieve a shared goal of maintaining the supply of helium that is important. We have had to make substantive changes to address legitimate policy concerns, and we have had to make technical changes to address parliamentary and budget matters; but we have gotten the job done. I wish we could use this as a model for the continuing resolution, for the debt ceiling, for the farm bill, for so many other things.

With the clock ticking, the need to get this legislation across the finish line is urgent.

As I said when we considered this bill back in April, helium is not used just to fill balloons. It is critical for MRI, magnetic resonant imagining, machines; it is necessary for preparing NASA rockets for launching; for high-tech manufacturing such as cleaning silicone chips for integrated circuits; and for lots of important scientific research. For many of these applications, there is simply no replacement for helium.

Our Nation's Federal Helium Reserve supplies nearly half of the helium used in the United States and roughly a third of all the helium used globally. If Congress fails to pass this legislation by Monday--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 would be cut off creating a crisis--and that's not an overstatement--that would devastate important sectors of America's high-tech and medical economy.

H.R. 527 would extend the life of the Federal Helium Reserve past the end of this fiscal year and ensure a fair return to taxpayers on this federally owned resource. It would generate more than $300 million for American taxpayers, according to the Congressional Budget Office.

I thank Chairman Hastings, also former Ranking Member Markey and current Ranking Member DeFazio. They deserve enormous credit for moving this legislation forward.

This is a good bill that provides a workable solution to a real problem, and I urge its adoption.

I reserve the balance of my time.


Mr. HOLT. Then I will close with a few remarks, again, with thanks to the chairman; and I yield myself such time as I may consume.

Mr. Speaker, I just want to stress how important the operation of the Federal Helium Reserve has been to science, to technology, to manufacturing, to health care in the United States.

Three-quarters of a century ago, farsighted legislators began stockpiling helium thinking it might be used for dirigibles and blimps lighter than aircraft. They didn't know what else it would be used for, but they recognized and understood that helium had some very special properties.

Additionally, the Federal Helium Reserve--the country's domestic stockpile of helium--has been a good investment for taxpayers. Helium is without a doubt a rare valuable resource, critical to our economic and national security. Because of decisions by Congress in past years, we are now in a position where failure to act in the next 5 days will result in nearly half of America's helium supply being cut off, creating a crisis in health care, in research, in manufacturing, and in many other areas.

Here we have an example of where Congress was farsighted and then subsequently shortsighted. Today, I think we are taking wise steps to remedy the situation.

It's important that as we make the decisions and the changes that we make with this legislation, that we don't fail to recognize the possible future uses, many perhaps not envisioned, and a possible failure of the market to provide an adequate supply of helium to meet those demands.

I know there is an ideology that's prevalent around here that for any commodity, for any human need the market will provide. In fact, it doesn't always. In this case, in the helium over the decades, it would not have had it not been for the Federal reserve.

So it is important today that as we are passing this legislation, we remember that it does require within 2 years the development of a long-term helium strategy to secure access to helium and to minimize disruption of a helium supply once the current reserve is shut down.

The Federal Helium Reserve over the life of this bill will generate over $300 million for American taxpayers. Now, Mr. Speaker, the definition of a good investment is something that returns considerably more than you put into it. The helium reserve has been a good investment for this country; and, frankly, the Federal Government should be looking for more opportunities to make such investments.

If in a few years' time we realize that a Federal Helium Reserve is necessary to secure a long-term domestic supply of helium, then I hope we can work together in the same cooperative manner that we worked on this to make the farsighted investments that legislators made many decades ago to establish a Federal Helium Reserve.

I thank my colleagues on the committee, especially my friend from Washington State, Chairman Hastings, for his work on this bipartisan solution. I encourage my colleagues here and in the other body to get this to the President for his signature quickly.

I urge adoption, and I yield back the balance of my time.

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