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Thread: Federal Helium Program: How temporary becomes forever

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    Federal Helium Program: How temporary becomes forever

    This story is such an apt metaphor for the current budget sequestration:

    Federal Helium Program: How temporary becomes forever - The Washington Post

    President Ronald Reagan tried to get rid of it. So did President Bill Clinton. This October, their wish is finally set to come true.

    The Federal Helium Program — left over from the age of zeppelins and an infamous symbol of Washington’s inability to cut what it no longer needs — will be terminated.

    Unless it isn’t.

    On Friday, in fact, the House voted 394 to1 to keep it alive.

    “Many people don’t believe that the federal government should be in the helium business. And I would agree,” Rep. Doc Hastings (R-Wash.) said on the House floor Thursday.

    But at that very moment, Hastings was urging his colleagues to keep the government in the helium business for a little while longer. “We must recognize the realities of our current situation,” he said.

    The problem is that the private sector has not done what some politicians had predicted it would — step into a role that government was giving up. The federal helium program sells vast amounts of the gas to U.S. companies that use it in everything from party balloons to MRI machines.

    If the government stops, no one else is ready. There are fears of shortages.

    So Congress faces an awkward task. In a time of austerity, it may reach back into the past and undo a rare victory for downsizing government.

    “If we cannot at this point dispense with the helium reserve — the purpose of which is no longer valid — then we cannot undo anything,” then-Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.) said back in 1996, when Congress thought it finally killed the program.

    Today, the program is another reminder that, in the world of the federal budget, the dead are never really gone. Even when programs are cut, their constituencies remain, pushing for a revival.

    Two other programs axed in Clinton’s “Reinventing Government” effort — aid to beekeepers and federal payments for wool — returned, zombielike, a few years later. Now the helium program may skip the middle step and be revived without dying first.

    “This sort of feels like the longest-running battle since the Trojan War,” said Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.). Wyden has written a Senate bill, similar to the one Hastings wrote in the House, to extend the helium program beyond October and then eventually shut it down.

    This time, the shutdown would happen, Wyden said. “I intend to watchdog this very carefully,” he added.

    The program at the center of this debate has its origins after World War I, in a kind of arms race that sounds ridiculous now. In Europe, countries such as Germany were building sturdy, if slow, inflatable airships. The U.S. military was worried about a blimp gap.

    So Congress ordered a stockpile of helium to help American dirigibles catch up. It was assumed to be a temporary arrangement.

    “As soon as private companies produce [helium], the government will, perhaps, withdraw?” asked Rep. Don Colton (R-Utah.) in the House debate.

    “That is correct,” said Rep. Fritz Lanham (D-Tex.).

    That was in 1925.

    Today, 88 years later, the zeppelin threat is over. Private companies have learned to produce helium. But the U.S. government still has its own reserve: a giant porous rock formation under the Texas Panhandle, whose crannies hold enough helium to fill 33 billion party balloons.
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    Re: Federal Helium Program: How temporary becomes forever

    33 billion party balloons???
    "He who does not think himself worth saving from poverty and ignorance by his own efforts, will hardly be thought worth the efforts of anybody else." -- Frederick Douglass, Self-Made Men (1872)
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    Re: Federal Helium Program: How temporary becomes forever

    ...and that's why nothing ever reduces spending. Every time I see "cut spending" I post my usual question. What will we cut? I've never gotten an answer.



    Quote Originally Posted by wbcoleman View Post
    This story is such an apt metaphor for the current budget sequestration:

    Federal Helium Program: How temporary becomes forever - The Washington Post

    President Ronald Reagan tried to get rid of it. So did President Bill Clinton. This October, their wish is finally set to come true.

    The Federal Helium Program — left over from the age of zeppelins and an infamous symbol of Washington’s inability to cut what it no longer needs — will be terminated.

    Unless it isn’t.

    On Friday, in fact, the House voted 394 to1 to keep it alive.

    “Many people don’t believe that the federal government should be in the helium business. And I would agree,” Rep. Doc Hastings (R-Wash.) said on the House floor Thursday.

    But at that very moment, Hastings was urging his colleagues to keep the government in the helium business for a little while longer. “We must recognize the realities of our current situation,” he said.

    The problem is that the private sector has not done what some politicians had predicted it would — step into a role that government was giving up. The federal helium program sells vast amounts of the gas to U.S. companies that use it in everything from party balloons to MRI machines.

    If the government stops, no one else is ready. There are fears of shortages.

    So Congress faces an awkward task. In a time of austerity, it may reach back into the past and undo a rare victory for downsizing government.

    “If we cannot at this point dispense with the helium reserve — the purpose of which is no longer valid — then we cannot undo anything,” then-Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.) said back in 1996, when Congress thought it finally killed the program.

    Today, the program is another reminder that, in the world of the federal budget, the dead are never really gone. Even when programs are cut, their constituencies remain, pushing for a revival.

    Two other programs axed in Clinton’s “Reinventing Government” effort — aid to beekeepers and federal payments for wool — returned, zombielike, a few years later. Now the helium program may skip the middle step and be revived without dying first.

    “This sort of feels like the longest-running battle since the Trojan War,” said Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.). Wyden has written a Senate bill, similar to the one Hastings wrote in the House, to extend the helium program beyond October and then eventually shut it down.

    This time, the shutdown would happen, Wyden said. “I intend to watchdog this very carefully,” he added.

    The program at the center of this debate has its origins after World War I, in a kind of arms race that sounds ridiculous now. In Europe, countries such as Germany were building sturdy, if slow, inflatable airships. The U.S. military was worried about a blimp gap.

    So Congress ordered a stockpile of helium to help American dirigibles catch up. It was assumed to be a temporary arrangement.

    “As soon as private companies produce [helium], the government will, perhaps, withdraw?” asked Rep. Don Colton (R-Utah.) in the House debate.

    “That is correct,” said Rep. Fritz Lanham (D-Tex.).

    That was in 1925.

    Today, 88 years later, the zeppelin threat is over. Private companies have learned to produce helium. But the U.S. government still has its own reserve: a giant porous rock formation under the Texas Panhandle, whose crannies hold enough helium to fill 33 billion party balloons.

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    Re: Federal Helium Program: How temporary becomes forever

    Quote Originally Posted by American View Post
    33 billion party balloons???
    But Congress is voting to maintain it!
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    Re: Federal Helium Program: How temporary becomes forever

    When they say that private companies "produce" helium, it's really not what it sounds like. It's like saying companies produce oil or natural gas. They don't really produce it so much as extract and refine it. It's a rare gas and though it's still being produced by the Earth through radioactive process, we're using it more and more and the supply is always going to be limited.

    Here's some more info to consider on the subject:

    After the "Helium Acts Amendments of 1960" (Public Law 86–777), the U.S. Bureau of Mines arranged for five private plants to recover helium from natural gas. For this helium conservation program, the Bureau built a 425-mile (684 km) pipeline from Bushton, Kansas, to connect those plants with the government's partially depleted Cliffside gas field, near Amarillo, Texas. This helium-nitrogen mixture was injected and stored in the Cliffside gas field until needed, when it then was further purified.[27]

    By 1995, a billion cubic meters of the gas had been collected and the reserve was US$1.4 billion in debt, prompting the Congress of the United States in 1996 to phase out the reserve.[4][28] The resulting "Helium Privatization Act of 1996"[29] (Public Law 104–273) directed the United States Department of the Interior to start emptying the reserve by 2005.[30]

    Helium produced between 1930 and 1945 was about 98.3% pure (2% nitrogen), which was adequate for airships. In 1945, a small amount of 99.9% helium was produced for welding use. By 1949, commercial quantities of Grade A 99.95% helium were available.[31]

    For many years the United States produced over 90% of commercially usable helium in the world, while extraction plants in Canada, Poland, Russia, and other nations produced the remainder. In the mid-1990s, a new plant in Arzew, Algeria, producing 17 million cubic meters (600 million cubic feet) began operation, with enough production to cover all of Europe's demand. Meanwhile, by 2000, the consumption of helium within the U.S. had risen to above 15 million kg per year.[32] In 2004–2006, two additional plants, one in Ras Laffan, Qatar, and the other in Skikda, Algeria, were built. Algeria quickly became the second leading producer of helium.[33] Through this time, both helium consumption and the costs of producing helium increased.[34] In the 2002 to 2007 period helium prices doubled.[35]

    As of 2012 the United States National Helium Reserve accounted for 30 percent of the world's helium.[36] The reserve was expected to run out of helium in 2018.[36] Despite that a proposed bill in the United States Senate would allow the reserve to continue to sell the gas. Other large reserves were in the Hugoton in Kansas, United States and nearby gas fields of Kansas and the panhandles of Texas and Oklahoma. New helium plants were scheduled to open in 2012 in Qatar, Russia and the United States state of Wyoming but they were not expected to ease the shortage.[36]
    It's no longer about zephillins.

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    Re: Federal Helium Program: How temporary becomes forever

    Quote Originally Posted by wbcoleman View Post
    This story is such an apt metaphor for the current budget sequestration:
    Code:
    Federal Helium Program: How temporary becomes forever - The Washington Post
    
    President Ronald Reagan tried to get rid of it. So did President Bill Clinton. This October, their wish is finally set to come true.
    
    The Federal Helium Program — left over from the age of zeppelins and an infamous symbol of Washington’s inability to cut what it no longer needs — will be terminated.
    
    Unless it isn’t.
    
    On Friday, in fact, the House voted 394 to1 to keep it alive.
    
    “Many people don’t believe that the federal government should be in the helium business. And I would agree,” Rep. Doc Hastings (R-Wash.) said on the House floor Thursday.
    
    But at that very moment, Hastings was urging his colleagues to keep the government in the helium business for a little while longer. “We must recognize the realities of our current situation,” he said.
    
    The problem is that the private sector has not done what some politicians had predicted it would — step into a role that government was giving up. The federal helium program sells vast amounts of the gas to U.S. companies that use it in everything from party balloons to MRI machines.
    
    If the government stops, no one else is ready. There are fears of shortages.
    
    So Congress faces an awkward task. In a time of austerity, it may reach back into the past and undo a rare victory for downsizing government.
    
    “If we cannot at this point dispense with the helium reserve — the purpose of which is no longer valid — then we cannot undo anything,” then-Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.) said back in 1996, when Congress thought it finally killed the program.
    
    Today, the program is another reminder that, in the world of the federal budget, the dead are never really gone. Even when programs are cut, their constituencies remain, pushing for a revival.
    
    Two other programs axed in Clinton’s “Reinventing Government” effort — aid to beekeepers and federal payments for wool — returned, zombielike, a few years later. Now the helium program may skip the middle step and be revived without dying first.
    
    “This sort of feels like the longest-running battle since the Trojan War,” said Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.). Wyden has written a Senate bill, similar to the one Hastings wrote in the House, to extend the helium program beyond October and then eventually shut it down.
    
    This time, the shutdown would happen, Wyden said. “I intend to watchdog this very carefully,” he added.
    
    The program at the center of this debate has its origins after World War I, in a kind of arms race that sounds ridiculous now. In Europe, countries such as Germany were building sturdy, if slow, inflatable airships. The U.S. military was worried about a blimp gap.
    
    So Congress ordered a stockpile of helium to help American dirigibles catch up. It was assumed to be a temporary arrangement.
    
    “As soon as private companies produce [helium], the government will, perhaps, withdraw?” asked Rep. Don Colton (R-Utah.) in the House debate.
    
    “That is correct,” said Rep. Fritz Lanham (D-Tex.).
    
    That was in 1925.
    
    Today, 88 years later, the zeppelin threat is over. Private companies have learned to produce helium. But the U.S. government still has its own reserve: a giant porous rock formation under the Texas Panhandle, whose crannies hold enough helium to fill 33 billion party balloons.
    This is why the budget sequestration is nothing more than a big scheme to convince the public that meaningful cuts can't be made. They act like 85 billion dollars is somehow impossible to cut when they spend over half that on foreign countries and they refuse to cut stupid programs like this. These automatic spending cuts were designed to fool the public into thinking that we can cut spending.
    "A nation can survive its fools, and even the ambitious. But it cannot survive treason from within. An enemy at the gates is less formidable, for he is known and carries his banner openly. But the traitor moves amongst those within the gate freely, his sly whispers rustling through all the alleys, heard in the very halls of government itself. For the traitor appears not a traitor; he speaks in accents familiar to his victims, and he wears their face and their arguments, he appeals to the baseness that lies deep in the hearts of all men. He rots the soul of a nation, he works secretly and unknown in the night to undermine the pillars of the city, he infects the body politic so that it can no longer resist. A murder is less to fear"

    Cicero Marcus Tullius

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    Re: Federal Helium Program: How temporary becomes forever

    The current use of helium is nothing more than theft from future generations. Helium can only be created through radioactive decay of alpha particles or nuclear fusion. Every time someone fills up a helium balloon, they are wasting a completely non-renewable resource for petty reasons. Helium is critical for scientific and medical equipment and we cannot afford to throw it away on meaningless tasks.

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    Re: Federal Helium Program: How temporary becomes forever

    Honestly, I wouldn't be surprised if we aren't allowed to use helium in balloons in the near future because there are just so many more important things that helium is needed for and it is being depleted so fast. In fact, I'm willing to bet soon it will also become one of those things people protest if they don't stop using it in balloons or other wasteful manners. It really is that hard to make/find and that valuable as a resource.
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    Re: Federal Helium Program: How temporary becomes forever

    I don't get it. Isn't Public law 104–273 still in effect for privatizing the Helium reserve?

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    Re: Federal Helium Program: How temporary becomes forever

    Just add this to the list of robot squirrels and Moroccan pottery classes.
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