Saving Helium: Something Lawmakers Actually Agree On

Congress: Keeping balloon Hello Kitty alive since 2013.<a href="http://www.shutterstock.com/gallery-80276p1.html?cr=00&pl=edit-00">gary718</a>/Shutterstock

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The world is facing a helium crisis. Helium is a finite and rapidly diminishing resource, one we could run out of in the next 25 years. And here we’ve been blowing up giant Snoopy balloons and making ourselves sound like pre-pubescent boys for all these years.

The shortage is causing helium prices to, well, balloon. And apparently it’s all Congress’ fault:

Scientists have warned that the world’s most commonly used inert gas is being depleted at an astonishing rate because of a law passed in the United States in 1996 which has effectively made helium too cheap to recycle.

The law stipulates that the US National Helium Reserve, which is kept in a disused underground gas field near Amarillo, Texas – by far the biggest store of helium in the world – must all be sold off by 2015, irrespective of the market price.

But now the House of Representatives—in a rare bipartisan effort—is trying to change that. On Wednesday, Democratic Reps. Ed Markey (Mass.) and Rush Holt (N.J.) and Republican Reps. Doc Hastings (Wash.) and Bill Flores (Texas) announced that they are working together on the Responsible Helium Administration and Stewardship Act. The bill would change how the Helium Reserve, which provides half of all helium used in the United States and a third of the helium used all over the world, works and extend its life beyond 2015. It would auction off most of the helium in the reserve at market value (which will be determined by the Secretary of Interior), instead of selling it at cut rates. It will also require that we keep the last 3 billion cubic feet of helium in the reserve for use for research purposes.

Helium isn’t just necessary for the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, as the lawmakers point out. It’s also used in computer chips, MRI scans, fiberoptic cables, and NASA’s rockets.

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without free and fair elections, a vigorous free press, and engaged citizens to reclaim power from those who abuse it.

In this election year unlike any other—against a backdrop of a pandemic, an economic crisis, racial reckoning, and so much daily bluster—Mother Jones' journalism is driven by one simple question: Will America move closer to, or further from, justice and equity in the years to come?

If you're able to, please join us in this mission with a donation today. Our reporting right now is focused on voting rights and election security, corruption, disinformation, racial and gender equity, and the climate crisis. We can’t do it without the support of readers like you, and we need to give it everything we've got between now and November. Thank you.

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