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US arrests San Diego man for smuggling HFCs into US and selling them

Michael Hart of San Diego was arrested on Monday and charged with smuggling greenhouse gases into the United States from Mexico and then selling them for profit. This is the first prosecution in the United States to include charges related to the American Innovation and Manufacturing Act of 2020 (AIM Act). The AIM Act prohibits the importation of hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), commonly used as refrigerants, without allowances issued by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

If convicted on all counts, Hart faces up to 45 years in prison and $750,000 in fines.

This office is at the forefront of environmental prosecutions, and today is 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.

—US Attorney Tara McGrath

It is illegal to import certain refrigerants into the United States because of their documented and significantly greater contribution to climate change. We are committed to enforcing the AIM Act and other laws that seek to prevent environmental harm.

—Assistant Attorney General Todd Kim of the Justice Department’s Environment and Natural Resources Division

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.

—David M. Uhlmann, EPA Assistant Administrator for the Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance

Hart made his first appearance in federal court Monday afternoon. The defendant was arraigned and entered a not-guilty plea. His next hearing is before US District Judge Jeffrey T. Miller for motion hearing/trial setting on 25 March 2024.

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 indictment alleges that Hart purchased refrigerants in Mexico and smuggled them into the United States in his vehicle, concealed under a tarp and tools. According to the indictment, Hart posted the refrigerants for sale on OfferUp, Facebook Marketplace and other sites, and sold them for a profit. In addition to greenhouse gases, the indictment alleges Hart imported HCFC 22, an ozone-depleting substance regulated under the Clean Air Act.


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