September 19, 2013

Wyden Applauds Senate Passage of Helium Legislation that Includes County Payments

Bill Co-Sponsored by Senator Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, Continues Secure Rural Schools Program for One Year Also Benefits High Tech and Health Care Industries

WASHINGTON, D.C - Senator Ron Wyden, D-Ore., today applauded Senate passage of legislation that provides a lifeline to rural counties by extending the county timber payments program for another year and also benefits the health care and technology sectors in Oregon and across the United States.

“Selling the Federal Helium Reserve provides the money necessary to continue a program that has provided Oregon counties with money for schools, roads and law enforcement since 2000,” Wyden said. “At the same time, the United States is ensuring continued access to the federal helium supply, preventing a shock to the health care sector and other critical industries, including high-tech, that depend on helium.”

The bill now goes the House of Representatives, which passed a similar measure earlier this year.

Extension of the Secure Rural Schools Program, which expired last year, means that counties in 41 states will get an estimated $329 million. The 33 counties in Oregon that receive county payments will get approximately $100 million, depending on the funding formula and mandatory budget cuts. Wyden passed the first county payments legislation in 2000. Since then the program has brought more than $2.8 billion to Oregon counties.

Extending this program provides breathing room to Oregon’s 18 O&C counties, many of which face tight budgets this fall. Wyden plans to introduce an O&C bill this fall that will increase timber harvest, create jobs and protect Oregon’s treasures over the long term.

"Senator Wyden's effort to secure a one-year extension of federal forest payments is an important step forward for Oregon counties facing challenges providing vital public services,” said Mike McArthur, executive director of the Association of Oregon Counties. “Today's Senate action could provide counties with a bridge as Congress works towards comprehensive legislation to reform, update, and streamline federal forest management laws.  We look forward to continuing to work with Senator Wyden and the rest of the Oregon Congressional delegation on this important issue."  

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.
“Protecting America’s manufacturing base, its research capabilities, its health care system, and its national security by temporarily extending the life of the BLM helium program is just common sense,” Wyden said. “This legislation keeps the Federal Helium Reserve afloat, allows a fair return to taxpayers for sales of federal helium, and then gets the government out of the helium business for good.”

“Intel applauds the passage of the Helium Stewardship Act and the leadership of Senators Wyden and Murkowski,” said Bill Holt, executive vice president and general manager of Intel Corporation's Technology and Manufacturing Group. “Helium is a critical material in the manufacturing of semiconductors, which themselves are critical components of computers, medical devices, cars, consumer electronics and defense weapons systems, to cite just a few uses. We urge the House to accept this legislation and to prevent the impending shutdown of the Federal Helium Reserve.  Shutdown would threaten the growth of the semiconductor industry, the nation’s second-leading export sector.”

Dr. Fran Biagioli, MD, a Portland family physician and president of the Oregon Medical Association, said:  “The Oregon Medical Association is pleased to see Senator Wyden working with Senator Lisa Murkowski on the Helium Stewardship Act, which secures the continued supply of a resource critical to medicine.  The OMA is pleased to support it."

Wyden and Murkowski introduced the Helium Stewardship Act of 2013  – now the High Technology Jobs Preservation Act –  in April to provide continued access to the Federal Helium Reserve – which would otherwise be required to close its doors the first week of October, when the program’s debt to the federal government would be repaid, according to the Interior Department.
The measure uses proceeds from sales of federal helium to fund other important priorities, including 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.