Copper Theft

Alabama Co-ops Win Copper Theft Law

By Michael W. Kahn | ECT Staff Writer Published: June 5th, 2012

In the war on copper theft, score a big victory for Alabama’s electric cooperatives.

Restrictions on what scrap dealers can buy figure prominently in Alabama’s new copper theft law. (Photo By: BananaStock)

Restrictions on what scrap dealers can buy figure prominently in Alabama’s new copper theft law. (Photo By: BananaStock)

Gov. Robert Bentley has signed a tough new bill that puts an emphasis on recyclers. Co-ops worked hard to make the law a reality.

“We’ve been involved in drafting this piece of legislation since last spring/early summer of last year,” said Sean Strickler, vice president, public affairs, at the Alabama Rural Electric Association of Cooperatives.

Strickler said the statewide knew copper theft was a growing problem, and when it was approached about joining a coalition, it surveyed its 22 member co-ops.

“There was a resounding, ‘Absolutely, because we’re getting robbed blind,’” Strickler told ECT.coop. “There was copper theft or metal theft of some sort going on at each one of our members’ facilities on a weekly basis, basically. Someone was getting robbed once a week, once every other week.”

The statewide got together with other stakeholders, and after a few meetings, “It ended up where we and about three other groups were the lead group in negotiations as to what was going to be in the bill,” Strickler said.

The coalition took the view that the only way to slow copper thieves is to make it tough to sell their wares. That put the focus on recyclers, and the coalition came up with a list of do’s and don’ts, such as limits on purchasing a wide range of property, including metal from electric utilities, catalytic converters and manhole covers.

“The only way you can sell that,” Strickler said, “is by showing proof of purchase, or that you’re in that business.”

One of the highlights of the new law is that by Jan. 1, 2013, scrap dealers will have to input all transactions into a new statewide database, to which police will have access. All transactions will have to be photographed or videoed.

But Strickler stressed that co-ops don’t consider legitimate dealers to be the enemy.

“We don’t want to put recyclers out of business,” he said. “We sell a lot to them, as well.”

“The fly-by-night guys who’ll take anything—those are the ones we have to deal with.”

Thieves can be charged with a felony if the damage they cause results in an imminent danger. Judges can also order restitution to include replacement and repair costs, along with the value of the metal. The law also bans cash payments for more than $50 worth of copper, or $500 of other metals.

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