Murkowski: Helium Bill Passage Extends Secure Rural Schools Funding

WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) today applauded final congressional approval of the Responsible Helium Administration and Stewardship Act, which she co-authored and made sure included $16 million for Southeast, Alaska, under the Secure Rural Schools program. The bill is now on its way to President Obama for signing.

Murkowski negotiated the final deal to close the federal helium reserve with Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Oregon) and Rep. Doc Hastings, (R-Wash.), the chairmen of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee and the House Natural Resources Committee, respectively.

“Passage of the helium bill is a big victory for Alaska,” Murkowski said. “It was just this past spring that the Forest Service was ‘clawing back’ money it owed to Southeast communities to cover budget cuts. And now we have $16 million and another year to find a permanent solution that protects Southeast communities.”

Closure of the helium reserve is expected to generate approximately $500 million in revenue over the next decade, according to the Congressional Budget Office.

As a result of Murkowski’s work, the bill, which reforms the federal helium reserve to ensure that U.S. taxpayers receive fair market value for the resource, dedicates $90 million to reduce the federal debt. The legislation also provides $50 million to cleanup abandoned oil wells on National Petroleum Reserve land and another $50 million to address the maintenance backlog of the National Park Service.

The Secure Rural Schools program provides a lifeline to communities in Alaska and 41 other states impacted by the decline in timber receipts from national forest lands. Communities that once had thriving timber industries now depend on the funds to pay for schools, roads and emergency services at a time when many rural counties face limited budgets.

“Many of our rural communities are dependent on these payments only because the Forest Service has failed to actively manage our forests,” Murkowski said.

The Forest Service manages more than 22 million acres of national forest lands in Alaska, including nearly all of the land in Southeast.