Daily Independent (Ashland, KY)

January 31, 2013

Still a problem

New law has reduced metal thefts, but they still occur

The Independent

ASHLAND — While a bill sponsored by State Rep. Tanya Pullin, D-South Shore, that sailed through the 2012 Kentucky General Assembly without an opposing vote has reduced the problem of copper and other metals being stolen from businesses, the new law has not completely eliminated the problem. Far from it, in fact.

Letcher County Sheriff Danny Webb says copper thieves have been cutting power lines and creating an electrocution risk for themselves and anyone walking near the poles. He said thieves have taken neutral conductor and ground wires in Little Cowan, Thornton and other areas in the county.

Kentucky Power spokesman Ronn Robinson says cutting the lines can lead to outages, and the cost of replacing the lines can eventually cause rate increases.

The law Pullin steered through the 2012 General Assembly requires people who sell metal to scrap yards be paid by check, which must be mailed to the sellers. The intent is to create a paper trail that will enable law enforcement officers to identify, trace and apprehend those who sell metals identified as being stolen.

In defending her bill, Pullin said thieves have taken guardrails, manhole covers, catalytic converters, utility lines and even rooftop air conditioning units.

Utility companies have reported  the loss of hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of copper wiring, forcing them to charge higher rates to customers to cover their losses. Just like shoplifters raise the price of retail merchandises for all customers, thefts from utility companies increase the price we all pay for electricity, natural gas and other utilities.

While scrap metals companies are banned under the new law from paying cash for metal purchased from individuals, Sheriff Webb said he is convinced there still are a few dealers who ignore the law and metal thieves know exactly where those dealers are. Webb said scrap dealers who are ignoring the new law will be prosecuted,

Frankly, we don’t have much sympathy for someone who is killed or seriously injured by being electrocuted or falling from a utility pole while attempting to steal metal. But when someone steals copper from a utility and those thefts increase our rates, the thieves are stealing from us, not some wealthy utility company.

We still fully support Pullin’s bill. That some stolen metal still is being sold on the black market is an enforcement problem. The law will become even more effective as enforcement of it improves.