Reacting to unprecedented copper thefts, at least 16 states have passed or proposed new laws, and businesses have boosted security and offered bounties for information on the thieves, USA Today reports. Losses to businesses are estimated at $1 billion, the U.S. Department of Energy reports. Escalating thefts have disrupted the flow of electricity, slowed construction projects, and halted irrigation networks crucial to commercial farms.
Thieves are capitalizing on rising demand and surging value for the popular metal – up from 80 cents per pound in 2003 to about $3.50 this year. “We’re trying to do everything possible to fight this epidemic,” says Adam Grant of Nevada Power, where copper thefts have more than doubled since last year. “It’s crazy.” The new laws toughen penalties for the thefts and tighten regulation of the salvage industry to prevent the resale of stolen materials.