According to the Associated Press, copper thefts are on the rise, as China’s expanding economy continues to provide a high demand for scrap metal.

Historically, copper theft has been cyclical, with temporary rises when the price of metal is high. However, China has fueled near-record prices that have been rising steadily for almost two years.

“It has been a problem many times over the past 50 or 100 years as the price of metal gets high,” said Chuck Carr of Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries.

Recently, three miles of telephone and Internet cables were stolen from the road that leads to the Oregon Caves National Monument, causing $3.2 million in damage and disrupting phone and Internet service.

Copper was trading at $7,344.50 per ton on Jan. 31, 2008, but experts estimate new sources will bring the market price back down to as low as $2,500 a ton. In the meantime, 19 states have passed laws intended to crack down on metal theft, and 19 more states are considering legislation. Scrapyards also receive notification about metal thefts from ISRI and are encouraged to question people who are trying to sell material they should not have.

—Information Inc.