Rep. Rush Holt, NJ-12 (D) wrote:
The bill on thomas.gov (Holt is a co-sponsor).Helium is useful for much more than filling party balloons. It is required for the operation of MRI machines and quantum computers, the manufacture of microchips and optoelectronics, and the conduct of countless scientific experiments. For many decades, recognizing its value, the United States has stockpiled the gas, which is found as a trace component in some natural gas fields. Under the Gingrich-inspired drive toward privatization of government resources, the 1996 Helium Privatization Act required selling off the national reserves, eventually to leave users of helium at the mercy of the international market. The law was poorly crafted and required helium to be sold at a price that is far below fair market value. This fire-sale pricing has squandered a relatively rare and valuable resource, has reduced returns to taxpayers, and, most important, has resulted in an unreliable supply of helium.In collaboration with both the Republican and Democratic leadership on the Committee on Natural Resources, I have introduced legislation to establish public auctions to set a fair price for helium. Although our legislation does not provide the long-term fix we will need ultimately to insure adequate supply, it would allocate a portion of our helium reserves for research and defense purposes and stop the firesale of public resources.
I wish that when the 1996 bill was passed, lawmakers had cared less about whether a policy was nominally “public” or “private” and more about whether it was intelligently crafted and carefully executed with the long-term future in mind.