Last evening (Oct. 2), President Obama signed into law the Helium Stewardship Act, which will keep the Federal Helium Reserve operating and selling crude helium to private industry beyond Oct. 7. As reported in this blog and in NEMA and MITA releases, the House and Senate passed the bill unanimously last week. Now commodity and supply managers for many companies in the medical imaging, lighting, welding, and semiconductor industries can breathe a bit easier and get a few more minutes of sleep at night.
I briefly considered titling this posting "Something Gets Done!", but decided that even in this climate that was too passive-aggressive and negative. More important than the label we might put on the helium episode is the fact that when committed leaders advised closely by industry focus on achieving compromise that is beneficial for industry, good things flow from that. NEMA and MITA were involved in part through a multi-industry coalition of helium end-users. Finding the right solutions, balancing competing interests and achieving a workable compromise is not easy and takes time. In the case of helium, it took more than 2 years, three bills, three hearings and a lot of back-and-forth to change a law Congress approved in 1996 when the world was very different. But last week a solution was found in time that provides a range of industries and companies the stable supply of helium they need to continue doing business, provides greater revenue to the federal government to cover its investments in the Reserve, and puts the sales on a market-basis so that private firms can better see the opportunity in helium extraction and capture. A "win-win-win", if I ever saw one.