Senate Finds a Way Off the (Helium) Cliff

Posted September 19, 2013 at 5:59pm

Setting the “hot air” jokes aside, when senators voted to pass bipartisan legislation to avert a helium crisis Thursday, they used the helium revenue to pay for an assortment of other priorities.

The bill, which passed overwhelmingly 97-2, was quite similar to earlier legislation drafted by the Energy and Natural Resources Committee, including provisions to use helium money for payments to rural communities for federal lands and remediate abandoned oil wells.

WGDB previously outlined the provisions in the earlier draft, which include funding for activities favored by Energy Chairman Ron Wyden, D-Ore., and his ranking member, Alaska Republican Lisa Murkowski.

“This legislation establishes a commonsense approach to managing the federal reserve as it is depleted, ensures that taxpayers receive a fair return, and puts us on a path towards ending the federal government’s involvement in this sector,” Murkowski said in a statement.

The bill would wind down government involvement in the helium market over the next decade.

The authorization for the federal helium reserve to operate is set to expire in early October, lending urgency to the effort. That’s the point made by freshman Sen. Edward J. Markey in his own statement, tying into the much larger debates over fiscal 2014 spending and the debt limit.

The Massachusetts Democrat was a senior member of the House Energy and Commerce Committee before his election to the Senate earlier this year.

“This legislation is proof that we can work together to keep important government services up and running, not shut them down over ideological battles,” Markey said. “As the co-author of this bill in the House, I know this bill can pass and get signed into law, which is more than we can say for most bills these days. Hospitals and technology manufacturers will still get the helium they need, and this bill will provide important transparency for the pricing of this vital resource.”

The action came as work on another Energy and Natural Resources Committee effort, a bipartisan energy efficiency bill championed by New Hampshire Democrat Jeanne Shaheen and Republican Rob Portman of Ohio saw little chance of any movement amid a dispute over amendments.