Johnson asked his colleagues to consider “the injustice of there being no helium for comedians to get that high-pitched voice that we all hold near and dear to our hearts” in a pun-filled speech on the House floor today.
The Georgia congressman spoke in support of the Responsible Helium Stewardship and Administration Act of 2013, which passed shortly afterwards by a vote of 394-1. The bill would halt the closure of the Federal Helium Reserve in Amarillo, Texas, a strategic reserve that is estimated to contain one-third of the world’s helium supply. Congress passed a bill in 1996 to privatize the Federal Helium Reserve, which had been established in 1925 as a strategic reserve for zeppelins and other airships, and the facility had been slated to auction off its remaining supply and close down by October of this year. The current worldwide shortage of helium, led Congress to reconsider the privatization plan.
Although Johnson’s speech referenced helium’s common usage in party balloons and on human vocal cords, the inert noble gas also has scientific and technological applications as a coolant in rockets, particle accelerators, nuclear reactors, and medical imaging machines. The House later voted 394-1 in favor of the act, which will set aside almost 3 billion cubic meters of helium for national laboratories and the military and auction off the rest to alleviate supply shortages.
Whether or not the remaining helium could be used to prevent the island of Guam from tipping over, which Rep. Johnson also warned fellow legislators about in April 2010, remains to be seen.