Mr. President, I appreciate hearing Senator Lee's objection. I do believe this is an issue that has been delayed for too long. The bill passed the Judiciary Committee by voice vote last June. Yet businesses, communities, and individuals continue to be victimized.
This is a bipartisan bill. This is legislation that has been introduced with Senator Graham of South Carolina, with Senator Hoeven of North Dakota--two Republicans--as well as Senator Schumer and Senator Coons. As I noted, it passed the Judiciary Committee. Yet we still have objections from the other side--people who are holding up this bill. At the same time, metal theft continues to rise across the country.
This bill does not create the kind of burdens my friend mentioned. This bill is very narrow. The only crime it creates for a Federal crime is a crime of theft of critical infrastructure--critical infrastructure, something that could threaten the national security--and this is not a far reach, given we have seen people stealing copper pipes, given we have seen houses blow up. So it is not a far reach at all.
Secondly, what does this bill do? It leaves it to States to decide what metal theft laws they want. In the end, it does not preempt those laws. If States have laws that are on point, if they have laws relating to metal theft that create some kind of a requirement that not everything can be paid for by cash so law enforcement can actually track this, then we have a situation where that State law would govern.
It is not an overly burdensome law. In fact, many States are adopting these kinds of laws. Our problem is there are some States that refuse to adopt these kinds of laws. So people are stealing metal from places such as Minnesota and bringing it to those States--to scrap metal dealerships that are accepting that metal and that don't have to report any kind of information to the police and don't have to have any recordkeeping.
We have a national problem. If you don't believe me, listen to this story. Just last week, in my home State, metal thieves robbed dozens of veterans' graves--veterans' graves as we are approaching Memorial Day. What did they do? They took the brass rods that hold their symbol of service.
People want to tell me this isn't a problem? People are stealing stars on veterans' graves and they are stealing the brass rods that hold their symbols of service. Just when families are gathered for Memorial Day, we have metal thieves wreaking havoc because they can go to some scrap metal dealer that isn't following the law and sell it and no one is going to keep track of who they are.
This is a crime. This is a crime, and it is not the first time. On Memorial Day in 2012, thieves stole more than 200 Bronze Star markers from veterans' graves in Isanti County, MN.
So I ask my colleagues who are holding up the bill how they explain defending this kind of practice and allowing it to continue, when this metal is being taken because it is valuable and it can be brought to scrap metal dealers that aren't following the law.
Metal thieves have become infamous for shameless acts such as this. These thieves will stop at nothing to get this high-priced metal and make a quick buck. Last month thieves stole the aluminum wheelchair ramp from the front steps of a man's house in Washington, stranding the man inside.
Enough is enough. Are our friends going to be listening to some scrap metal dealers when most of them follow the law, but clearly some don't want to follow the law; is that what we are listening to in this Chamber? Are we going to listen to the veterans of this country? Are we going to listen to the police groups?
By the way, this bill has been endorsed by the Major Cities Chiefs of Police, the Fraternal Order of Police, and the Major County Sheriffs' Association. So I ask, are we going to listen to those groups or are we going to listen to the scrap metal lobby?
In Minneapolis, thieves have targeted the city's oldest continuously used church. First, they stole the copper downspouts. Then they came back to steal two air-conditioners and gut the copper supply lines to the kitchen freezers. Before the church even had time to replace the stolen air-conditioners, the thieves came back a third time to steal a third air-conditioner and gut the newly replaced copper lines. Replacing the stolen items and installing security fixtures has cost the parish thousands of dollars that could have otherwise been spent on the good work of the church.
These thefts have cost the parish more than money, it has also cost a tradition. This church has been serving French meat pies since the late 1800s, but this year they had to cancel it because of the thieves.
Last winter at a recreation center in St. Paul, MN, thieves stole $20,000 worth of pipe from the outdoor ice rink, causing the center to close until local businesses donated labor and materials to make the repairs--$20,000 worth of pipe. The problem is the replacement is much more than $20,000. It was hundreds of thousands of dollars because they have to repair the whole ice rink.
In Rochester, MN, I met with local businesses that have been robbed by metal thieves--one local business 12 times in just the past 2 years and has suffered more than $150,000 in losses, similar to the story Senator Hoeven and I heard when we met with electric companies in Fargo and in Moorhead. During one of the robberies in Rochester, thieves even stole a truck with the company logo on it and then used the truck to rob other construction sites without raising suspicion.
Across the country, copper thieves have targeted construction sites, power and phone lines, retail stores and vacant houses. They have caused explosions in vacant buildings by stealing metal from gas lines, and they have caused blackouts by stealing copper wiring from street lights and electrical substations. Do you know why? Because they have a willing buyer. They have people who are willing to buy their stuff and will not even take the care of keeping records and taking checks so law enforcement can later investigate who they are.
These next examples show how dangerous metal thefts can be. Last October four people were injured in an explosion at a University of California-Berkeley electrical station. Officials blamed it on copper theft that occurred 2 hours before the explosion. The copper is stolen, the pipes don't work, the workers turn it on, and there is an explosion and four people injured.
Georgia Power was having a huge problem with thieves targeting a substation that feeds the entire Atlanta airport--one of the busiest airports in the world, the Delta hub. The airport was getting hit two to three times a week and surveillance didn't lead to any arrests.
This is a crime that knows no borders, no boundaries. It happens in cities, it happens in suburbs, and it happens certainly in rural areas. Depending on the case, it threatens public safety, weakens our infrastructure, and undermines our businesses.
The impact is staggering. In one study, the U.S. Department of Energy found the total cost to industries affected by copper theft would exceed over $900 million every single year--$900 million every single year. Between 2010 and 2012 the National Insurance Crime Bureau identified nearly 34,000 insurance claims related to metal theft. To put that number in perspective, it marked a 36-percent increase from the 25,000 claims reported between 2009 to 2011. That 25,000 number was more than an 80-percent increase from the previous reporting period.
Listen to who is supporting this bill, and then I ask my colleague: Are you going to listen to these businesses or are you going to listen to the scrap metal dealers?
Air Conditioning Contractors of America, supporting the bill, American Public Power Association, supporting the bill, American Supply Association, Associated Builders and Contractors, CenturyLink, Edison Electric Institute, Heating, Air-Conditioning & Refrigeration Distributors, the Home Depot, International Council of Shopping Centers, Independent Electrical Contractors, Independent Telephone and Telecommunications Alliance, Lowe's Companies, Inc., National Association of Electrical Distributors,
National Association of Home Builders, National Electrical Contractors Association, National Retail Federation, National Rural Electric Cooperative Association, Retail Industry Leaders Association, Sheet Metal and Air Conditioning Contractors' National Association, Inc., United States Telecom Association, Windstream Corporation, XO Communications.
I could go on and on. These are mainstream businesses on Main Street that support this bill because they are getting ripped off.
So what can we do about it? We know why it is happening; that is, because there is a global demand for copper, especially from China and India, and higher prices encourage thieves to steal copper and other metals. We all know the vast majority of scrap metal dealers are legitimate and law-abiding. They do not want to buy stolen property. I have worked extensively with the scrap metal industry in my legislation. We have made some changes they suggested in order to improve the effectiveness of the bill and lessen the burden on scrap metal dealers wherever possible.
Given the scale of the problem, I believe we have to take strong steps to fight these crimes and give law enforcement the tools they need. I worry that at some point we are going to have a major break in our Federal infrastructure and everyone will look back and wonder why they listened to some lobbyist representing the scrap metal dealers instead of all these businesses I mentioned and instead of the police. They will look back to this moment.
Maybe they could at least listen to the beer dealers. They support this bill because their kegs are getting stolen all over the country.
What does our bill do? First of all, it puts modest recordkeeping requirements on the recyclers that buy scrap metal, limiting the value of cash transactions, and requiring sellers in certain States to prove they actually own the metal.
The bill also makes it a Federal crime to steal metals from critical infrastructure and directs the U.S. Sentencing Commission to review relevant penalties.
Our intention is not to preempt State laws, so if a State already has laws on the books regarding metal theft, they would still apply and the Federal law would not.
These criminals work across State lines--we know that--and they take advantage of States without this type of law. This bill is intended to fill the gap in States that don't have these protections. My people are getting ripped off in Minnesota because some States don't have laws. This is a Federal crime, and it is a Federal problem.
The shameless--shameless--robberies of veterans' graves make clear we can't just let this go anymore. It is time to pass this bill.
I yield the floor.