California Man Becomes First In US To Be Charged With Smuggling Potent Greenhouse Gases From Mexico

Hailey Gomez General Assignment Reporter
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Authorities arrested a California man Monday for allegedly smuggling potent greenhouse gases into the U.S. from Mexico in a first-of-its-kind charge, according to officials.

The U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of California identified San Diego resident Michael Hart as the suspect charged by officials. Authorities allege that after Hart brought over the potent greenhouse gases, he sold them “for a profit,” thereby violating U.S. regulations aimed at “curbing the use of greenhouse gases and slowing climate change.” (RELATED: Major Manufacturer Hit With Second-Largest Environmental Fine Ever)

Hart’s arrest marks the first prosecution within the United States related to the American Innovation and Manufacturing Act (AIM Act). The AIM Act, signed into law by former President Donald Trump at the end of 2020, aims to empower the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to oversee a reduction in both the production and consumption of hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs). While HFCs are commonly used by federal agencies for various applications, including refrigeration, air conditioning, building insulation, fire extinguishing systems, and aerosols, the EPA states that they can be “hundreds to thousands of times more potent than carbon dioxide,” the press release stated.

Authorities allege that Hart purchased refrigerants in Mexico and smuggled them into the U.S. by concealing them “under a tarp and tools” within his vehicle. The San Diego resident then allegedly posted the items for sale on OfferUp, Facebook Marketplace, and other sites before selling them for “a profit.” Additionally, authorities claim that Hart imported HCFC 22, “an ozone-depleting substance,” which is regulated under the Clean Air Act.

“This office is at the forefront of environmental prosecutions, and today is a significant milestone for our country,” U.S. Attorney Tara McGrath stated. “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.”

Before 2020, EPA regulations regarding ozone-depleting substances, which included HCFC 22, did not allow anyone to import a “regulated ozone-depleting substance” that exceeded the amount of an individual’s consumption. However, by January 1, 2020, all consumption allowances for HCFC 22 were eliminated, making it illegal to import HCFC 22 “for any purpose other than for use in a process resulting in their transformation or their destruction,” the press release 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,” EPA Assistant Administrator for the Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance, David M. Uhlmann, stated.  “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.”

Since Hart’s arrest, the San Diego resident has been arraigned and entered a plea of not guilty. Hart’s next hearing is scheduled for March 25 before U.S. District Judge Jeffrey T. Miller.