Wyden, Murkowski Applaud Final Passage of Helium Legislation

Bill Now Goes to the President to Sign into Law

September 26, 2013

Washington, D.C. – Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee Chairman Ron Wyden, D-Ore., and Ranking Member Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, today applauded the Senate’s final passage of legislation that ensures continued access to the federal helium supply and prevents a shock to the health care sector and other critical industries that depend on helium.

The Responsible Helium Administration and Stewardship Act provides continued access to the Federal Helium Reserve – which otherwise would have closed its doors the first week of October, when the program’s debt to the federal government will be repaid, according to the Interior Department. The bill will now be sent to the president for his signature.

Helium is a critical element to industries including medical diagnostics equipment, aerospace and federal research and development and semiconductor and fiber optics-manufacturing. The Federal Helium Reserve supplies about 40 percent of domestic and 30 percent of world helium demand. The alternatives for helium are limited and often nonexistent.

Today, Congress averted an immediate crisis for businesses and industries that depend on helium,” Wyden said. “This bill – soon to be law – contributes to deficit reduction and ensures a better deal for taxpayers by getting the government out of the helium business. While other must-pass legislation awaits Congressional action, I’m pleased that the Senate and House have shown how they can act to accomplish a number of important goals on a bipartisan basis.”

“I’m pleased with the final passage of this bipartisan legislation to ensure that the Federal Helium Reserve continues providing this critical material to American businesses, while putting us on a path toward ending the federal government’s involvement,” Murkowski said. “This legislation not only establishes commonsense management of the reserve, it also protects the American taxpayers, helps pay down the deficit, and addresses numerous other federal priorities.”

Wyden and Murkowski introduced an earlier version of the bill, the Helium Stewardship Act, in April. The Senate and House passed similar versions of the bill earlier this month. Today’s Senate vote reflects agreements made by both houses to prevent a shock to the market by allowing the Federal Helium Reserve to continue operating in phases. The bill ensures a transition away from federal ownership by establishing an auction for helium in the reserve, beginning in August 2014, with an additional 15 percentage points added to the auction every year.  In the third phase, the reserve would continue to operate only to supply federal customers. The bill then requires the federal government to phase out its involvement in the helium sector by 2021.

The measure uses proceeds from sales of federal helium to fund important priorities, including the Secure Rural Schools Program, reducing the federal debt, funding park maintenance, mitigating damage associated with abandoned oil and gas wells and mines, and reducing the royalty rate for soda ash.