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Opposition parties vow to 'clean the Clean Air Act'

The three opposition parties are vowing to turn the government's Clean Air Act into a vehicle for complying with the Kyoto Protocol, even though Conservatives have warned it's too late to meet Kyoto's targets without major economic havoc.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper agreed to an NDP request yesterday that the Clean Air Act go straight to committee before second reading, a procedural option that means MPs are free to amend the bill in any way they wish.

"We want to respect Kyoto's targets," Bloc Québécois Leader Gilles Duceppe said. "We'll clean the Clean Air Act. Be sure of that. Stephen Harper won't recognize what he's proposing."

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Liberal Leader Bill Graham and New Democratic Party Leader Jack Layton also said they want the bill amended to comply with Kyoto. Environment Minister Rona Ambrose warned in October that meeting Kyoto at this point would cause consumer energy bills to soar.

While the opposition was pleased with the government's apparent flexibility, NDP MPs picked a new environmental battle yesterday over the appointment of a Kyoto critic to a federal agency responsible for funding scientific research.

University of Western Ontario physics professor Christopher Essex was appointed Tuesday to the 21-member Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada. The council controls $900-million a year in funding.

Prof. Essex was one of 20 Canadian academics who signed an open letter to the Prime Minister in April urging him to abandon Kyoto as an "irrational" squandering of billions of dollars.

" 'Climate change is real' is a meaningless phrase used repeatedly by activists to convince the public that a climate catastrophe is looming and humanity is the cause. Neither of these fears is justified," the letter to Mr. Harper states.

Prof. Essex was a runner-up in 2003 for the Donner Prize for Taken By Storm: The Troubled Science, Policy and Politics of Global Warming, which he co-authored with Ross McKitrick, a University of Guelph professor.

The book challenges widely accepted computer climate models that say carbon dioxide emissions cause global warming.

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Taking a mathematical perspective, the authors argue in their book that the methods used to measure the "global temperature" are so flawed as to render meaningless the central assertion that Earth is warming.

NDP MP Nathan Cullen said Prof. Essex's appointment risks tainting the work of Canadian scientists.

"The research that not only the government listens to, but the information that goes out into the public discourse, is controlled by people who run this organization. If you put someone in who doesn't believe in climate change and sees no urgency to fight against human-related climate change, you then skew the entire debate," Mr. Cullen said. "It's a Republican-style approach where you fund the skeptics."

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