Tricounty News

Legislation to stop copper thefts

Standing at the site where a Minneapolis fourplex recently exploded because of a natural gas leak caused by the theft of copper pipes, U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar and Rep. Jim Ramstad announced that they have introduced federal legislation to stem the growing epidemic of copper thefts. The price of copper has quadrupled in the past five years. As a result, thieves are eager to steal copper and resell it to scrap metal dealers, who take it in virtually any form. "These thefts are happening all over," said Klobuchar. "The thieves are going after construction sites in the suburbs, utility lines in the countryside and anywhere they find a vacant house or building." "This important legislation," Representative Ramstad said, "will give law enforcement the tools they need to crack down on copper theft, which is plaguing communities and businesses across America." The Copper Theft Prevention Act of 2008 is co-sponsored with Senator Orrin Hatch of Utah. A companion bill in the House is sponsored by Jim Ramstad of Minnesota and Bart Stupak of Michigan. The legislation is designed to deter copper thefts by making it more difficult for thieves to sell the stolen property to scrap metal dealers.  Under the legislation, scrap metal dealers would be   required to: • Keep records of all copper transactions, including name and address of the seller, transaction date, detailed description of the copper sold, and information from a driver's license or other government-issued ID; • Maintain these records and make them available to law enforcement agencies to track down copper thieves; and • Perform all transactions over $250 by check rather than cash. The legislation would impose a civil penalty of up to $10,000 for failing to document a transaction or engaging in a cash transaction over $250. "The vast majority of scrap metal dealers are perfectly legitimate and law abiding," said Klobuchar. "This law is designed to deter the thieves. The harder it is for them to sell the stolen goods, the less likely it is they'll steal in the first place." "Sadly, copper is easily turned into cash and a very small percentage of thieves who steal it are ever caught," Hatch said. "That's why thieves - often methamphetamine addicts - have been stealing copper in every form and costing Americans hundreds of thousands of dollars in theft, damage and threats to safety. This bill will help put a stop to that." Copper thieves target construction sites, wholesale suppliers, utilities, unoccupied homes and vacant buildings. In some instances, the theft of copper wires or pipes has led to house fires and explosions. "This is not just about the theft of valuable property," Klobuchar said. "It can also be a matter of life or death." To highlight the danger to public safety, Klobuchar and Ramstad held the news conference at the site of an unoccupied fourplex in Minneapolis that exploded on Sept. 21. The explosion was caused by a natural gas leak caused by theft of the copper pipes. A duplex next door was rendered uninhabitable by the blast, and the two families who lived there had to be relocated by the American Red Cross. Klobuchar and Ramstad were joined at the news conference by police and fire officials, as well as representatives from the utility and construction industries. Also participating were Minneapolis City Councilmember Don Samuels, who represents the neighborhood where the fourplex exploded, and state legislators Joe Mullery and Paul Gardner, who helped pass a new Minnesota law last year that is also aimed at deterring copper thieves.