Ontario, Canada’s Green Giant?

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The minister of the environment (MOE) of Ontario, John Gerretsen, just spoke at an Ontario Environment Industries Association (ONEIA) event in Toronto. He discussed a number of things, but focused mainly on the Green Act and it’s implications for the Ontario economy. Clearly a forward thinking man, he insists the environment industry will play a large role in any economic recovery by offering practical solutions with quicker than expected payback periods.

Specifically, the Green Energy Act proposes to have a one (1) permit system to help projects cut through the red, or as the minister calls it, green tape. Right now, you need at least 4-6 permits from the MOE to get a project of the ground. While permitting procedures may be cumbersome, the minister maintains that Ontario has had it easy compared to the rest of the world. Low energy costs, vast resources and a small population have allowed wasteful practices to go unpunished. To help with the new, but simpler requirements, the MOE will offer facilitation services to businesses, though it is still unclear what this entails.

Ontario certainly has ambitious goals, the list includes a 6 month permit approval timeframe on their 1 permit system, the removal of coal plants from the Ontario grid by 2016 (coal currently accounts for 1/6 of electricity), 50 000 new green jobs this year, zero waste companies, rehabilitate Lake Simcoe and a strong solar power industry. As the minister said, society needs ambitious goals to hope to even achieve part of them.

The ministry is also introducing new Hazardous Waste and Electronic Waste Management programs. On top of this, as chairman of the Council of Canadian Ministers of the Environment (CCME), Mr. Gerretsen is pushing national packaging standards forward. We all know there is too much bad packaging on our products. The ministry is also reaching out internationally, particularly to Europe and the Dutch to exchange technologies on brownfield rehabilitation and water contamination. The cherry on the top of the proverbial cake is a plan to introduce a carbon cap-and-trade plan in conjunction with the Western Climate Initiative (WCI) and Qu├ębec – which would then put pressure on Obama and Harper to quickly follow suit with a North American standard. Ontario can lead, but the rest of us have to follow.

At the same event on Thursday, Alex Gill from the ONEIA announced it will be surveying Ontario companies to better understand the environment industry, it’s priorities, challenges, and opportunities. This report is expected to be released April 29th, in conjunction with the Environment Industry Day.

All told, it looks like Ontario, Canada’s industrial giant, has woken up to the possibilities of a green(er) economy. Now, we will see if this giant can walk and talk at the same time.