It is the second-lightest element in the Universe, has the lowest boiling-point of any gas and is commonly used through the world to inflate party balloons. But helium is also a non-renewable resource and the world's reserves of the precious gas are about to run out, a shortage that is likely to have far-reaching repercussions.From the Independent. The law in question, the Helium Privatization Act, is discussed here. Its purpose seems to have been largely cosmetic:
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.
The U.S. Bureau of Mines was responsible for running a crude helium storage facility and refining helium for use by the federal government. The program was intended to pay off a loan from the Treasury Department through sales of refined helium. The federal agencies were required to purchase their helium from the Bureau of Mines, but lagging sales failed to produce the expected revenue. Instead of decreasing, the debt between the Treasury and the Department of Interior increased to $1.6 billion. The debt was a paper debt between the two federal agencies; meaning, the debt did not affect the national debt. But the public viewed the debt as an example of government waste.My bold. So they're making a concerted effort to piss away a non-renewable resource in order to make the government's books look better. Krikey.