Saving Helium: Something Lawmakers Actually Agree On

Congress: Keeping balloon Hello Kitty alive since 2013.<a href="http://www.shutterstock.com/gallery-80276p1.html?cr=00&pl=edit-00">gary718</a>/Shutterstock

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The world is facing a helium crisis. Helium is a finite and rapidly diminishing resource, one we could run out of in the next 25 years. And here we’ve been blowing up giant Snoopy balloons and making ourselves sound like pre-pubescent boys for all these years.

The shortage is causing helium prices to, well, balloon. And apparently it’s all Congress’ fault:

Scientists have warned that the world’s most commonly used inert gas is being depleted at an astonishing rate because of a law passed in the United States in 1996 which has effectively made helium too cheap to recycle.

The law stipulates that the US National Helium Reserve, which is kept in a disused underground gas field near Amarillo, Texas – by far the biggest store of helium in the world – must all be sold off by 2015, irrespective of the market price.

But now the House of Representatives—in a rare bipartisan effort—is trying to change that. On Wednesday, Democratic Reps. Ed Markey (Mass.) and Rush Holt (N.J.) and Republican Reps. Doc Hastings (Wash.) and Bill Flores (Texas) announced that they are working together on the Responsible Helium Administration and Stewardship Act. The bill would change how the Helium Reserve, which provides half of all helium used in the United States and a third of the helium used all over the world, works and extend its life beyond 2015. It would auction off most of the helium in the reserve at market value (which will be determined by the Secretary of Interior), instead of selling it at cut rates. It will also require that we keep the last 3 billion cubic feet of helium in the reserve for use for research purposes.

Helium isn’t just necessary for the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, as the lawmakers point out. It’s also used in computer chips, MRI scans, fiberoptic cables, and NASA’s rockets.

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SIX TRUTHS

Reclaiming power from those who abuse it often starts with telling the truth. And in "This Is How Authoritarians Get Defeated," MoJo's Monika Bauerlein unpacks six truths to remember during the homestretch of an election where democracy, truth, and decency are on the line.

Truth #1: The chaos is the point.

Truth #2: Team Reality is bigger than it seems.

Truth #3: Facebook owns this.

Truth #4: When we go to work, we're in the fight.

Truth #5: It's about minority rule.

Truth #6: The only thing that can save us is…us.

Please take a moment to see how all these truths add up, because what happens in the weeks and months ahead will reverberate for at least a generation and we better be prepared.

And if you think journalism like Mother Jones'—that calls it like it is, that will never acquiesce to power, that looks where others don't—can help guide us through this historic, high-stakes moment, and you're able to right now, please help us reach our $350,000 goal by October 31 with a donation today. It's all hands on deck for democracy.

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