New bill would require license to sell copper in an effort to reduce theft
Oklahoma City, Okla. (KOKH) —
A new bill recently introduced in the Oklahoma state legislature could make it harder for thieves to steal copper wiring and sell it in scrap yards.
It would also require anyone selling scrap copper to have a license.
"The problem is rampant within Oklahoma County," said Rep. Merleyn Bell, who introduced the bill.
Copper wiring has been a target for thieves across the state, and a lot of it is being stolen from the lamp posts that light our roads.
Fixing them has costed taxpayers a fortune.
"With the Oklahoma Department of Transportation reporting costs to replace copper wire for highway lighting along one section of I-40 estimated at upwards of $700,000," Bell said.
Rep. Bell wants to stiffen penalties for selling burnt copper wiring from a $2,500 fine to $5,000 for a first offense.
The bill is aimed at middlemen who buy stolen copper from thieves, and sell it to legitimate dealers.
"This type of damage, for let's say $5,000 worth of copper, can cost hundreds of thousands of dollars in damage," said Brian Alford, a spokesperson for Oklahoma Gas and Energy. "That is ultimately paid by our customers and by taxpayers."
OG&E says, in addition to spending hundreds of thousands of dollars on street lamps, it has copper stolen from its supply yards and substations, with thieves becoming more and more brazen.
"We've seen attempts to cut fence around our substations, chain wrapped around ground wire, which is copper wire in the ground, and those chains tied to a vehicle, and the vehicles literally pull it from the ground," Alford said.
OG&E says copper theft can be dangerous.
Thieves have been electrocuted trying to rip wires from lights.
OG&E says it is also dangerous for crews who have to replace them.
In response to the theft, OG&E has started replacing its copper wiring with aluminum, hoping that will be less attractive for thieves.