San Diego Man First in Nation to Be Prosecuted Under Recently Enacted Law to Curb Climate Change

A truck engine is tested for pollution exiting its exhaust pipe near the Mexican-U.S. border in Otay Mesa. REUTERS/Mike Blake

A San Diego man who allegedly smuggled refrigerants into the United States from Mexico is the first in the United States to be prosecuted under a recently enacted law aimed at mitigating climate change.

Michael Hart, 58, is accused of buying the potent greenhouse gases in Mexico, concealing him in his car, and then bringing them into the United States, where he then allegedly sold the items in online marketplaces.

Hart also allegedly imported HCFC 22, which is classified as an “ozone-depleting substance” and has been illegal to import since 2020, except for limited purposes that result in its transformation or destruction.

The Department of Justice says the case marks the first prosecution in the United States to include charges related to the American Innovation and Manufacturing Act of 2020, which prohibits the importation of hydrofluorocarbons — or HFCs — without approval by the Environmental Protection Agency.

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

“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.”

The EPA says potent greenhouse gases are typically used for refrigeration, air conditioning, building insulation, fire extinguishing systems, and aerosols.

The global warming potential of HFCs are exponentially more potent than carbon dioxide, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office.

Assistant Attorney General Todd Kim of the Justice Department’s Environment and Natural Resources Division said in a statement, “It is illegal to import certain refrigerants into the United States because of their documented and significantly greater contribution to climate change.”

Hart made his initial court appearance Monday afternoon on charges of conspiracy, importation contrary to law, and sale of merchandise imported contrary to law.

City News Service contributed to this report.

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