The EPA hails the arrest of California man accused of smuggling illicit air coolants into the US

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Biden administration is hailing the arrest of a California man accused of smuggling illicit air coolants into the United States, saying the apprehension is the first of its kind and a sign of vigorous enforcement of initiatives to combat climate change.

Michael Hart of San Diego was charged with smuggling hydrofluorocarbons, a highly potent greenhouse gas also known as HFCs, under a law that bans the import of a gas once commonly used in refrigerators and air conditioners.

“The illegal smuggling of hydrofluorocarbons, a highly potent greenhouse gas, undermines international efforts to combat climate change,'' said David Uhlmann, assistant administrator for enforcement at the Environmental Protection Agency. “Anyone who seeks to profit from illegal actions that worsen climate change must be held accountable.''

Hart, 58, was charged Monday under a 2020 law aimed at reducing use of HFCs that contribute to global warming. A federal indictment alleges that he purchased refrigerants in Mexico and smuggled them into the United States in his vehicle, with the contraband concealed under a tarp and tools. According to the indictment, Hart posted the refrigerants for sale on Facebook Marketplace and other sites.

In addition to greenhouse gases, the indictment alleges that Hart imported HCFC-22, an ozone-depleting substance regulated under the Clean Air Act.

The EPA has pledged to enforce a rule imposing a 40% reduction in HFCs as part of a global phaseout designed to slow climate change. The rule follows a 2020 law that prohibits the importation of HFCs without allowances issued by the EPA.

The 2020 law, known as t he American Innovation and Manufacturing Act, calls for an 85% reduction in production and use of the climate-damaging chemicals by 2036. It aligns with an 2016 international agreement that compels the United States and other countries to limit use of HFCs.

“We are committed to enforcing the AIM Act and other laws that seek to prevent environmental harm,'' said Assistant Attorney General Todd Kim of the Justice Department’s Environment and Natural Resources Division.