Scrap recyclers have worked aggressively in every state across the country to help pass anti-metals theft laws, taking into account the specific geographical, commercial, and cultural circumstances unique to each state’s borders. Every state except Alaska now has at least one law, and in many cases multiple laws, addressing recordkeeping requirements, specified payment methods, and proof or documentation of ownership that are often more strict than what is currently being proposed in Congress.
The rise in metals thefts is not the result of inadequate or insufficient laws, but lack of enforcement and prosecution of the metals thieves. With limited resources and a full docket of other crimes, local law enforcement and prosecutors simply do not have the bandwidth to regularly go after metals thieves. Making metals theft a federal crime will not change this fact. Federal law enforcement and prosecutors are even less likely to have the time to investigate and prosecute such crimes than state authorities, particularly when trying to deal with terrorism, border security, kidnappings, and other violent crimes that are already subject to federal jurisdiction. S.394/HR 867 merely duplicate the requirements already in force in the majority of states and creates confusion about enforcement authority.
Further, the federal legislation attempts to use a one-size-fits-all approach and in doing so encroaches on state’s reserved powers to enact criminal and commercial laws. By overriding only parts of some state laws while leaving other parts in place it undermines state sovereignty while at the same time doing little to eliminate the current patchwork of metal theft laws that encourage forum shopping by thieves.
Metals theft is a serious problem, damaging personal property and causing disruptions in public infrastructure systems. People have been electrocuted and killed trying to steal live wires. There have been power outages and loss of phone service due to theft. Security and scale personnel in scrap yards have also been seriously wounded or even killed in trying to prevent thefts. This serious problem warrants a serious solution which is why recyclers strongly support strict state laws that address scrap metal transactions but we – our industry and the communities we live in – also desperately need effective prosecution in order to truly defeat and deter metals thieves. Unfortunately, the Metal Theft Prevention Act just gives criminals a get out of jail free card.
Wiener is president of the Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries, or ISRI.