Bipartisan sponsors of a House bill hope it will prevent an already severe helium supply crunch from worsening this fall if the federal government halts sales from the Federal Helium Reserve. Users of helium told lawmakers recently that the shortage is already the worst in decades.

“Unless Congress takes swift action, America will float off a helium cliff,” warned Representative Doc Hastings (R-WA), chairman of the House Committee on Natural Resources and one of the bill’s sponsors, at a 14 February hearing on the bill. “There are many who believe that the federal government shouldn’t be in the helium business, and I would agree. But we are and have been since the mid 1990s.” New legislation is required, he said, “because helium is too essential to suddenly shut off the valve at the reserve.”

The helium reserve has been declining since 1996, when Congress ordered its selloff. The reserve currently...

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