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July 21, 2008

Bill C-61 blocking green initiatives

As our environmental policies move beyond establishing emissions standards or cleanup requirements, law and regulation is increasingly focused on creating incentives for business to reduce polluting activities and for consumers to adopt environmentally-friendly habits. Given the desire to reorient long-standing practices, laws not traditionally considered part of the environmental file should also be examined to determine whether they are consistent with promoting "greener" behaviour.

The notion of "green copyright" sounds odd, yet the policy choices found in Bill C-61, Industry Minister Jim Prentice's controversial copyright bill, disappointingly run directly counter to the current emphasis on the environment.

For example, Canadians trash an estimated 184,000 tonnes of old computers, cellphones, and printer cartridges each year, with many of containing potentially hazardous materials such as mercury and lead. In response, the Ontario government recently proposed a new electronic waste fee to encourage recycling of older devices.

Despite attempts to reduce e-waste, Bill C-61 establishes new barriers to the reuse of electronics. If enacted into law, it would prohibit the unlocking of cellphones, forcing many consumers to junk their phones when they switch carriers (there are an estimated 500 million unused cellphones in the United States alone).

Similarly, the U.S. version of Bill C-61 has resulted in lawsuits over the legality of companies that offer to recycle printer ink cartridges. In one lawsuit, Lexmark sued a company that offered recycled cartridge and though it ultimately lost the case, the lawsuit created a strong chill for companies set to enter that marketplace.

Bill C-61 also creates new barriers in the race toward network-based computing, which forms part of the ICT industry's response to the fact that it accounts for more carbon emissions than the airline industry.

Network-based computing – often referred to as "cloud computing" – benefits from the efficiencies provided by large computer server farms that are often situated in proximity to clean energy sources. Network experts argue that Canada could parlay its high-speed optical networks and environmental advantages in the north to become a global cloud computing leader with zero carbon emissions, yet the new copyright bill now stands in the way.

The bill prohibits companies from taking advantage of cloud computing to offer network-based video recording services (as are offered by some U.S. based providers). It also stops consumers from shifting their music, videos, and other content to network-based computers, limiting these new rights to devices physically owned by the consumer. In fact, the bill even blocks consumers from using network-based computer backup since multiple copies of purchased songs or videos is forbidden.

Canadian politicians entered the summer recess expecting to get an earful about the environment from their constituents. To the surprise of many, the digital environment has joined the physical environment as one of the hot-button issues of the summer.

Sources indicate Prentice received more than 20,000 letters criticizing Bill C-61 within weeks of its introduction. Local members of Parliament such as Conservative Bruce Stanton (Simcoe North) and Liberal Sukh Dhaliwal (Newton-North Delta) have scheduled town hall meetings on copyright in response to constituent concerns, while author and broadcaster Tom King, an NDP candidate in the forthcoming Guelph by-election, has emphasized copyright as a key campaign issue.

As Canadians express concern over both their physical and digital environments, many may begin to link the issues by advocating for a greener copyright bill.

July 18, 2008

Ontario joins Western Climate Initiative

Ontario is joining an initiative which aims to compel companies to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions. (Ontario is the 2nd largest polluter in Canada, behind Alberta.)

The province is now part of the Western Climate Initiative (WCI), which includes British Columbia, Manitoba, Quebec and seven U.S. states.

A key to the initiative is a so-called cap-and-trade system, which allows polluters to buy credits from greener companies.

Premier Dalton McGuinty says Ontario is "proud to be welcomed into this important organization of climate-change leaders."

Environment Minister John Gerretsen calls the cap-and-trade system "fair and effective (and) economically and environmentally sound."

Ontario and Quebec had earlier signed their own cap-and-trade deal on June 2 during a joint cabinet session.

The cap-and-trade system is scheduled to be in place by 2010.

July 9, 2008

Ontario rethinking ethanol and biofuels

Gasoline sold in Ontario may not be required to contain 10 per cent ethanol fuel within two years, Premier Dalton McGuinty said today.

McGuinty said he’s rethinking his long-standing promise to boost the ethanol content in gasoline by 2010 due to complaints that the biofuel yields little to no environmental benefits and is driving up the cost of food.

“The issue for us is whether it would be in the public’s interest to stretch it to 10 per cent,” he said.

“I think we’ve got to pay attention to some of the other developments, including food costs.”

McGuinty made the pledge prior to the 2003 election that saw the Liberals seize power, saying the move to ethanol would boost Ontario’s rural communities and add thousands of new jobs.

Currently, gasoline sold in Ontario must contain an average of five per cent ethanol, which is derived from corn, wheat and straw.

But environmentalists and other groups have grown disenchanted with biofuels, which a United Nations report linked to the increase in world food prices.

McGuinty wouldn’t say whether he’s also rethinking the government’s policy of purchasing cars that can accept 85 per cent ethanol fuel.

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