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Will Musk’s hands-off ideal for Twitter have broad appeal?

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By Matt O’brien And Tom Krisher

Coming up with $44 billion to buy Twitter was the easy part for Elon Musk.

Next comes the real challenge for the world’s richest person: fulfilling his promise to make Twitter “better than ever” as a lightly regulated haven for free speech.

His vision for improving the 16-year-old company leans heavily on a pledge to make speech “as free as reasonably possible” on the platform — a commitment that’s been celebrated on the political right and among followers of former President Donald Trump, whose account last year was permanently banned. For others who worry that Musk will give free rein to agitators who spew hate, lies and other harmful content, making the platform too toxic for advertisers and average users, Musk has offered few assurances.

“The extreme antibody reaction from those who fear free speech says it all,” he tweeted Tuesday

Many of Musk’s proposed changes reflect his own experience as a high-profile and outspoken Twitter user with more than 85 million followers and a swarm of pesky impersonator accounts that use his name and photo to promote cryptocurrency schemes. The statement announcing his acquisition of Twitter on Monday highlighted the need to defeat “spam bots” that mimic real users.

But what about Twitter’s more than 200 million other users who aren’t getting banned or flooded with spam? There’s still a lot of uncertainty about whether his ideas are technologically feasible and whether these changes would benefit most regular users, or serve some other purpose.

“He’s made it pretty clear he’s not interested in making Twitter a profitable enterprise,” said Joan Donovan, who studies misinformation at Harvard University. “It’s about the power and the influence of Twitter itself and its importance in our culture.”

Experts who have studied content moderation and researched Twitter for years have expressed doubt that Musk knows exactly what he is getting into. And some of the problems he has identified aren’t felt by most users.

“The spam bots, for him, are highly visible and somewhat personal,” said Donovan. “Most people don’t see a lot of these spammy accounts.”

And for those unhappy with the company’s crackdown on hate, harassment and misinformation, there are plenty of fledgling examples of “free speech”-focused social media platforms that have been launched in the past few years as Twitter antidotes, largely by conservatives. Many have struggled to deal with toxic content, and at least one has been cut off by its own technology providers in protest.

“This move just shows how effective (moderation features) have been to annoy those in power,” said Kirsten Martin, a professor of technology ethics at the University of Notre Dame. “I would be worried as to how this would change Twitter’s values.”

The fact that no other bidders emerged in public before Musk’s deal was a sign that other would-be acquirers might find Twitter too difficult to improve, said Third Bridge analyst Scott Kessler.

“This platform is pretty much the same one we’ve had over the last decade or so,” Kessler said. “You’ve had a lot of smart people trying to figure out what they should do, and they’ve had trouble. It’s probably going to be tough to make a lot of headway.”

Musk received an effusive, if highly abstract, endorsement from Twitter co-founder and former CEO Jack Dorsey, who praised Musk’s decision to take Twitter “ back from Wall Street ” and tweeted that he trusts Musk’s mission to “ extend the light of consciousness ” — a reference to Dorsey’s notion that “Twitter is the closest thing we have to a global consciousness.”

But others familiar with Twitter say they’re dismayed at Musk’s successful bid for the company.

“Twitter is going to let a man-child essentially take over their platform,” said Leslie Miley, a former Twitter employee who has also worked for Google and Apple. Miley, who was the only Black engineer at Twitter in a leadership position when he left the company in 2015, echoed doubts about Musk’s grasp of the platform’s complexities.

“I am not sure if Elon knows what he is getting,” Miley said. “He may just find that having Twitter is a lot different than wanting Twitter.”

The more hands-off approach to content moderation that Musk envisions has many users concerned that the platform will reanimate accounts that propagated dangerous conspiracies and harassment.

Wall Street analysts said if he goes too far, it could also alienate advertisers — Twitter’s chief revenue source. And it could make it harder to retain the San Francisco-based company’s more than 7,500 employees, some of whom are already voicing concerns about the possibility of a backslide on content standards.

In Europe, officials reminded Musk about a new law, the Digital Services Act, that will force tech companies to step up policing of their online platforms.

“Be it cars or social media, any company operating in Europe needs to comply with our rules – regardless of their shareholding,” tweeted Thierry Breton, the European Union commissioner in charge of the bloc’s internal market. “Mr. Musk knows this well. He is familiar with European rules on automotive, and will quickly adapt to the Digital Services Act.”

Musk’s takeover is not yet a done deal and still awaits the approval of a majority of Twitter’s stockholders. Twitter previously scheduled its annual shareholders meeting for May 25, but a regulatory filing Tuesday said the company will be convening a special meeting “as promptly as reasonably practicable.”

While there are likely to be some bumps along the way, there don’t appear to be serious enough obstacles to stop the deal, according to Charles Elson, director of the Weinberg Center for Corporate Governance at the University of Delaware.

Twitter or Musk can walk away from the deal if it’s not completed by Oct. 24, but if either Musk or Twitter is deemed responsible for the deal not going forward, they would have to pay a $1 billion termination fee, according to details of the transaction contained in a regulatory filing published Tuesday. The filing also showed that Twitter will drop a “poison pill” measure it had earlier adopted to defend against Musk’s takeover by making it prohibitively expensive.

Normally when companies go private, dissenting shareholders are forcibly cashed out. Some could challenge the stock price in court, contending that Musk should pay more, but that probably won’t hold up the sale, Elson said.

It’s likely that Musk would dissolve the current board and replace it with a new one that would agree with his management direction. And once Twitter is private, Musk will face fewer gripes from shareholders that often bring lawsuits, Elson said. Private companies also don’t face as much scrutiny from the Securities and Exchange Commission, which has been a finger in Musk’s eye for years, often because of statements he’s made on Twitter.

On Tuesday, shares of Twitter traded just under $50, below the $54.20 purchase price. Twitter will offer a glimpse into the health of its business when it reports its quarterly financial results Thursday.

Twitter’s constituents aren’t the only ones anxious about Musk’s $44 billion investment.

Shares of Musk’s electric car company, Tesla, have lost about 19% of their value since Musk announced his stake in Twitter, including about a 12% decline on Tuesday. Analysts say investors are fearful that Musk will be distracted by the social media company and less engaged in running Tesla.

“He’s going to be spending more time with another venture,” Edward Jones Senior Equity Analyst Jeff Windau said of Musk, who also runs SpaceX, The Boring Co., which digs tunnels, and Neuralink, a computer-brain interface company. “There’s a potential limit on the amount of bandwidth that you can apply to each of these companies.”

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Krisher reported from Detroit. O’Brien reported from Providence, Rhode Island. AP writers Barbara Ortutay in Oakland, California, Kelvin Chan in London and Sam Petrequin in Brussels contributed to this report.

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Canada’s top five federal contaminated sites to cost taxpayers billions to clean up

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By Emily Blake in Yellowknife

With a cost estimate of $4.38 billion, remediation of the Giant Mine, one of the most contaminated sites in Canada, is also expected to be the most expensive federal environmental cleanup in the country’s history.

The figure, recently approved by the Treasury Board of Canada, spans costs from 2005 until 2038, when active remediation at the former Yellowknife gold mine is anticipated to end. That includes $710 million the federal government said has already been spent, but does not include costs for long-term care and maintenance.

“It doesn’t bother me so much that it’s going to cost $4 billion to clean up Giant Mine. What really bothers me is that the taxpayer is covering that cost,” said David Livingstone, chair of the Giant Mine Oversight Board.

It indicates the federal government failed to ensure private developers provided financial security to remediate sites. He said while that has improved over time, there will likely be more issues in the future.

“We as a society need to get a better handle on what it costs us to support mining industry and oil and gas industry,” he said. “If the numbers suggest that it’s going to cost more to clean up a site than that site generated in revenue to the Crown, we’ve got a problem.”

There are more than 20,000 locations listed in the federal contaminated sites inventory, from dumps and abandoned mines to military operations on federal land.

Environment and Climate Change Canada says that after Giant Mine, the four most expensive cleanups are the Faro Mine in Yukon, the Port Hope Area Initiative in Ontario, Esquimalt Harbour in British Columbia and Yukon’s United Keno Hill Mine.

More than $2 billion has been spent on the five sites so far, and it’s anticipated they will cost taxpayers billions more in the coming years. Their final price tags are not yet known.

The most recent numbers from the Treasury Board of Canada indicate more than $707 million has been spent on remediation, care and maintenance at Faro Mine, a former open pit lead-zinc mine. Its remediation project is expected to take 15 years to complete and is currently estimated to cost $1 billion, plus $166 million for the first 10 years of long-term operation and maintenance.

Parsons Inc. was awarded a $108-million contract in February for construction, care and maintenance at Faro Mine until March 2026, with the option to extend the contract for the duration of active remediation. The company said the contract could ultimately span 20 years and exceed $2 billion.

In 2012, Ottawa committed $1.28 billion in funding over 10 years for the cleanup of historical low-level radioactive waste in the municipalities of Port Hope and Port Grandby, Ont. To date more than $722 million has been spent on assessment and remediation.

The Port Grandby Project was completed earlier this year and has moved into long-term monitoring for hundreds of years. The Port Hope cleanup, which started in 2018, will continue into 2030.

The cleanup in the Esquimalt Harbour seabed in Victoria currently has a budget of $162.5 million. Roughly $214 million has already been spent on remediation and assessment. The Department of National Defence said that may include costs before 2015, when the remediation project began.

Cleanup of United Keno Hill Mine, a historical silver, lead and zinc mining property near Yukon’s Keno City, is estimated to cost $125 million, including $79 million during its active reclamation phase. That is expected to begin in 2023 and take five years, followed by a two-year transition phase then long-term monitoring and maintenance.  More than $67 million has been spent on remediation, care and maintenance at the site so far.

Other costly federal sites that have been cleaned up include the Cape Dyer Dew-Line, 21 former radar stations across the Arctic, for $575 million, the Sydney tar ponds and coke ovens on Cape Breton Island, N.S., for nearly $398 million, and the 5 Wing Goose Bay air force base in Labrador, for $142.9 million.

The 2022 public accounts state the gross liability for the 2,524 federal contaminated sites where action is required is nearly $10 billion based on site assessments. Of the 3,079 unassessed sites, 1,330 are projected to proceed to remediation with an estimated liability of $256 million.

The federal contaminated sites action plan was established in 2005 with $4.54 billion in funding over 15 years. That was renewed for an additional 15 years, from 2020 to 2034, with a commitment of $1.16 billion for the first five years.

Jamie Kneen with MiningWatch Canada said the contamination from Giant Mine highlights the importance of the planning and assessment process for development projects.

“If you don’t actually do any planning around something, you can end up with a pretty horrible mess,” he said. “In this case, it killed people before they started even capturing the arsenic. We don’t want that to happen anymore.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 27, 2022.

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This story was produced with the financial assistance of the Meta and Canadian Press News Fellowship.

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Saskatchewan government deciding what to do with new revenue from carbon pricing

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By Mickey Djuric in Regina

Saskatchewan is to soon gain control of the carbon pricing charge that shows up on residents’ power bills.

However, Premier Scott Moe and his Saskatchewan Party government are still mulling over how that new revenue should be spent.

Since 2019, a carbon backstop has been placed on Saskatchewan Power Corporation bills to account for its greenhouse gas emissions.

The money has been going to the federal government, but starting in January the money will be staying in the province.

This comes after Saskatchewan successfully applied to have natural gas pipelines and power plants regulated through its own carbon-pricing system, and will take full regulatory control over all large greenhouse gas emitters in the province.

Under the program, Saskatchewan will still have to comply with the federal carbon pricing schedule.

Moe has said his government hasn’t made a decision whether it will return some of that money collected through power bills back to residents.

“It’s fair to say we haven’t made that decision yet,” Moe said Wednesday.

He said a priority for the government is to invest in Saskatchewan’s transition to cleaner power generation.

Moe said he’d like to see some money go toward producing nuclear energy.

Federal government policy aims to reach a net-zero grid by 2035. This is putting pressure on Saskatchewan to transition away from coal and natural gas — power generation it mainly relies on to keep the lights on in the province.

To support a transition to cleaner energy, the modernization of Saskatchewan’s electrical grid will be essential, SaskPower, the province’s Crown electrical utility, said in its 2021-22 report.

“We need to make responsible decisions of how we are making those investments, but we also want to do everything we can to keep power affordable for Saskatchewan residents,” Moe said.

The Opposition New Democrats have taken a similar viewpoint.

NDP Leader Carla Beck said Thursday that she wants to see a plan for the money that involves reliable energy that reduces emissions and doesn’t stick Saskatchewan people with power sources they can’t afford.

“These are huge investments, huge considerations for the future of this province,” she said.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 24, 2022.

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