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Sen. Schumer aims to make metal theft a federal offense

Critical infrastructure isn’t just under electronic assault, according to one New York lawmaker. It is also being physically assaulted by metal thieves cutting away at bridges, gas lines and other facilities, in search of a quick buck.

As scrap metal prices skyrocket, metal thieves pose a potentially dire threat to the nation’s bridges, water and gas lines, and electrical systems, said Sen. Charles Schumer (D-NY) on Aug. 8.

Schumer, appeared at a press conference at a Syracuse, NY, school where metal thieves had stolen copper air conditioning lines, causing thousands of dollars in damage, said he has introduced legislation that would make stealing metals, such as iron, copper and other metals, a federal offense.

He noted a that due to the high price of iron, copper, and other metals in the market, the Syracuse Police Department had seen a 50 percent increase in the number of scrap metal burglaries and larcenies in the area, including thefts of copper wire from schools and a 250 lb block of steel chopped out of  a local bridge.

Theft of metal from utility companies has been a nagging problem for years. A power company in Texas blamed thieves stealing copper wire from a substation for a power outage there on Aug. 2.  Thieves recently stole copper telephone wire from an Amtrak communications system in New Jersey causing traffic delays on the bustling northeast corridor line. New Jersey is among a few states where state legislators are currently considering making scrap metal buyers keep more meticulous records of their purchases.

Copper piping and man hole covers, catch basin covers and other utilitarian metal objects have all become the targets of thieves looking for easy money.

Schumer said his proposal would federalize penalties for metal theft and increase documentation requirements for scrap metal buyers. He said the bill would require documentation proving that those selling metal to recyclers own the metal or are authorized to sell it; require recyclers to keep detailed records for purchases of metal; cap the amount at $100 in cash that recyclers can pay for scrap metal; create a specific federal crime of stealing metal from critical infrastructure, and more.

Schumer, who cosponsors this legislation with Senator Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), said metal theft can cause serious danger to school children, commuters, first responders, and local residents. Thieves, he said, can not only cause fires when they use blow torches to remove metal, they can seriously compromise the integrity of public facilities.

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