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California man first in US to face charges for allegedly smuggling ‘highly potent greenhouse gases’ into country
Photo by J. David Ake/Getty Images

California man first in US to face charges for allegedly smuggling ‘highly potent greenhouse gases’ into country

A California man became the first in the United States to face charges for allegedly smuggling “highly potent greenhouse gases” into the country from Mexico, the Department of Justice reported Monday.

Michael Hart, a 58-year-old San Diego resident, was arrested early Monday after he allegedly illegally smuggled hydrofluorocarbons, commonly used as refrigerants, into the country to sell for a profit, the DOJ stated.

The agency accused Hart of purchasing refrigerants in Mexico and concealing them under a tarp and tools in his vehicle before crossing into the U.S. Hart then allegedly attempted to sell the refrigerants by listing them on OfferUp, Facebook Marketplace, and other online merchants. According to the DOJ, Hart sold the refrigerants for a profit.

The charges, related to the Trump-era American Innovation and Manufacturing Act of 2020, state that the Environmental Protection Agency must approve the importation of HFCs.

According to the EPA, HFCs are “greenhouse gases” commonly used in refrigeration, air conditioning, building insulation, fire extinguishing systems, and aerosols. The EPA claims that HFCs have “high global warming potential.”

The Climate & Clear Air Coalition notes that HFCs “are very powerful, short-lived climate pollutants with an average atmospheric lifetime of 15 years.” The synthetic gases “represent around 2% of total greenhouse gases.”

“The most abundant HFC warms the planet 3,790 times as much as CO2 over a 20-year period,” the coalition claimed.

“The global warming potential (GWP) of an HFC can be hundreds to thousands of times more potent than carbon dioxide. The use of HFCs has been rapidly increasing worldwide due to the global phaseout of ozone-depleting substances (ODS) and increased demand for refrigeration and air conditioning,” the DOJ stated.

David M. Uhlmann, EPA assistant administrator for the Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance, stated, “The illegal smuggling of hydrofluorocarbons, a highly potent greenhouse gas, undermines international efforts to combat climate change under the Kigali Amendment to the Montreal Protocol.”

“Anyone who seeks to profit from illegal actions that worsen climate change must be held accountable. This arrest highlights the significance of EPA’s climate enforcement initiative and our efforts to prevent refrigerants that are climate super pollutants from illegally entering the United States,” Uhlmann added.

U.S. Attorney Tara McGrath called the charges “a significant milestone for our country.”

“This is the first time the Department of Justice is prosecuting someone for illegally importing greenhouse gases, and it will not be the last. We are using every means possible to protect our planet from the harm caused by toxic pollutants, including bringing criminal charges,” McGrath said.

The DOJ reported that Hart entered a not-guilty plea on Monday and is scheduled for his next hearing on March 25.

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