|Case Studies - Case four:
INFORMATION ON POLLUTION WANTED! Canada, 1999
Sulphur in the gasoline that we use in our cars is a major contributor to air pollution. Sulphur dioxide and sulphur particulates in tailpipe emissions flow into acid rain and smog. In addition, other poisonous gases are released through catalytic converters damaged by the same sulphur dioxide.
Since there is indeed a significant variation in the sulphur content in different fuels, Friends of the Earth (FoE), an environmental organization, believed that the information on these sulphur levels should be available to the public so that consumers could shop around for the cleanest gas.
With this in mind, FoE asked Environment Canada (Fall of 1999) for data about the sulphur content of gasolines from different oil refineries with a view of publishing this information. This kind of civic action is facilitated and protected through freedom of information legislation.
However, five major oil companies (Imperial, Shell, Petro-Canada, Sunoco and Ultra Mar) responded by taking Canada to court to prevent the release of this information. The companies said that the sulphur contents of their gasolines are confidential information and that publicizing these statistics would cause them financial harm and jeopardize their competitiveness. Imperial Oil Vice President D. Roger Purdie even stated: "A significant percentage of current customers will shift their gasoline purchases away from companies with relatively high sulphur content levels should this information be disclosed."!!! Now isnt this what both consumer protection AND free market competition are all about?
FoE, represented by Sierra Legal Defence Fund joined Environment Canada, and with a huge and unanimous public support and under broad national media coverage won this legal battle: before the Federal Court could render its decision, the plaintiff companies abandoned their claims thus admitting that the public has a legitimate interest in knowing which companies are producing high- sulphur gasoline - because it ends up polluting the air we all breathe.
Friends of the Earth did not wait long to publish the list of the most polluting fuels- not surprisingly, Imperial Oil (and, particularly its Sarnia and Nanticoke refineries in Ontario) turned out to be on the top of that list! FoE has called for a nationwide boycott of Imperial Oil/Esso products.
On June 7, the Minister of Environment announced the new regulation to cut sulphur in gasoline from its current allowable limit of 1000ppm to 30ppm starting January 1, 2005. As a midterm step, refiners have to reduce sulphur to 150 ppm by 2002.