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Wyden Keeps Timber Payments Aloft With Helium Reserve

OPB | Sept. 26, 2013 3:11 p.m. | Bend, Oregon

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A bill that that would extend timber payments to rural Oregon counties is headed to the desk of President Obama.  The one-year extension would reduce payments by 5 percent. 

The extension was part of a bill passed Thursday by the U.S. Senate, winding down the government’s interest in the helium business.

So what’s the link between helium and timber payments?  Well, the answer is Oregon Senator Ron Wyden.

Wyden wrote the original Secure Rural Schools Bill which authorized timber payments. He now chairs the Senate’s Energy and Natural Resources committee.

That’s the body that has jurisdiction over the National Helium Reserve — which supplies the gas to high-tech manufacturers and researchers around the world.

This bill gradually sells off that reserve.  And as committee chairman, Wyden was able to attach an amendment to secure $330 million of those proceeds for counties in 41 states.

Meanwhile, the House has passed a bill that would provide more money to rural counties by increasing logging on federal lands.  And Wyden is expected to introduce his own legislation soon to help Western Oregon’s O&C counties.

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