House Legislation: Energy Critical Elements Program and “Helium II”

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Publication date: 
22 August 2014

Energy Critical Elements Bill:

FYI #136 reviewed the provisions of H.R. 1022, the Securing Energy Critical Elements and American Jobs Act of 2014 as introduced in March 2013.  The bill considered on the House floor differed from this original version, following bipartisan discussion, in several ways:

  • The new version does not list specific rare earth minerals, instead providing a definition for an “energy critical element.”
  • The new version authorizes a Critical Materials Energy Innovation Hub that includes a Critical Materials Information Center.
  • There is an annual authorization level of $25 million from FY 2015 to 2019.
  • The new version calls for the President to act through a committee of the National Science and Technology Council in the section entitled “Supply of Energy Critical Elements.”
  • The language in the introduced version for a “Temporary Program for Rare Earth Materials Revitalization” was deleted.  Importantly, the new bill did not authorize a loan guarantee program.


Helium Stewardship Act:

The Subcommittee on Energy and Mineral Resources of the House Natural Resources Committee reviewed the Bureau of Land Management’s administration and implementation of the Helium Stewardship Act of 2013 at a hearing last month.  As described by Subcommittee Chairman Doug Lamborn (R-CO), “This bipartisan, bicameral legislation was signed into law by the President in October and for the first time injects free market reforms to the sale of helium from the Federal Helium Reserve.  It also increases transparency and ensures the temporary continued operation of the Reserve before scheduling the final closure in 2021 – all this while providing American taxpayers with a fairer return on this valuable public resource.”

In his opening remarks, Subcommittee Ranking Member Rush Holt (D-NJ) described the importance of a bipartisan approach to securing a domestic helium reserve.  He also discussed the need for ensuring helium to federal and scientific users in the future.

Subcommittee members heard testimony from officials of the Bureau of Lands Management (BLM) and the Government Accountability Office.  Sales of helium are proceeding as called for in the Helium Stewardship Act while future processes are being developed.  Members expressed satisfaction with the actions that BLM is taking.

Of note to the physics community were the concluding remarks Chairman Lamborn made about new legislation to ensure a domestic supply of helium, after the program’s termination in 2021, to helium users, including federal researchers:

“While this hearing has been helpful, this law does not permanently solve our need for a more secure and reliable domestic source of helium to fulfill our future needs.  While critically important, this federal reserve is a temporary operation and in order to ensure that our defense, manufacturing, research, and medical industries have access to the helium they need more must be done.  That is why after this hearing, [full Committee] Chairman [Doc] Hastings and I will be releasing a discussion draft of legislation that will focus on increasing helium production from federal lands.  The goal of what we are calling ‘Helium II’ is to secure and encourage future production of domestic helium, ensure that helium producers have the regulatory certainty that they need to explore for and produce helium on federal lands, and facilitate a private domestic market for U.S. helium. 

“This proposed legislation will create a federal leasing program for helium on federal lands and ensure that a secure supply of domestic helium is available for national defense, federal researchers, and other industries that depend on helium for their businesses.  Aside from the U.S., the other global producers of helium are Russia and Qatar.  If we do not take steps to ensure stability and growth of a U.S. helium industry, as the reserve slowly closes we will be increasingly dependent on foreign countries like these for helium.  We cannot allow the U.S. to become dependent on foreign nations for a vital resource especially when we have an abundance of that resource within our own borders.”

Lamborn added that he looks forward to receiving feedback on the discussion draft of this legislation.  Title II in the discussion draft pertains to Federal Users of helium, defined as “a Federal agency or extramural holder of one or more Federal research grants using helium.”

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