Morning Call: pick of the papers

The ten must-read comment pieces from this morning's papers.

1.  We're rewriting the nation's future. Here's how it looks... (The Independent)

Big projects, stamped with a Union Jack, were ecstatically embraced by public opinion, writes Mary Dejevsky.

2. The grades are down – well done to you all! (The Telegraph)

After decades of exam inflation, yesterday’s GCSE results herald a return to credibility, writes Anthony Seldon.

3.Celebrate Paralympians, but remember they needed state help to get there (Guardian)

As we celebrate these super-fit athletes, benefits for disabled people are being cut and views against them are hardening, writes Polly Toynbe.

4.The Lib Dems don't need a new leader. They need a point (The Independent)

Searching for cheap populist policies and silent on issues long held sacred, what do they stand for now? writes Ian Birrell.

5. How an extraordinary day spent with Tony Nicklinson changed my views on right-to-die (The Telegraph)

Visiting the severely disabled man with locked-in syndrome revealed the depth of his suffering, the seriousness of his intent and the extent to which he had explored every other avenue, writes Peter Stanford.

6. Time to put a stop to speculating on hunger (The Independent)

Even the slightest increase in prices may mean that people go hungry, writes The Independent.

7. Orwell should have his statue at the BBC (The Telegraph)

Far from considering him 'Left-wing’, we conservatives rather admire the writer, writes Daniel Hannan.

8. To Republicans, women are simply the sum of their parts (Guardian)

The GOP's adoption of an anti-abortion platform is further indication of a party that has no clue about reproductive life, writes Ana Marie Cox.

9. How food insecurity keeps the workforce cowed (Guardian)

The development of food banks in the UK marks a shift from welfare to the punitive management of poverty, writes Richard Seymour.

10. The real worry is how have we fallen so far behind the rest of the world (The Independent)

Our system is at best in the middle of the global pack and at worst it is slipping down it, writes Hamish McRae.

 

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Donald Trump wants to terminate the Environmental Protection Agency - can he?

"Epa, Epa, Eeeepaaaaa" – Grampa Simpson.

 

There have been countless jokes about US President Donald Trump’s aversion to academic work, with many comparing him to an infant. The Daily Show created a browser extension aptly named “Make Trump Tweets Eight Again” that converts the font of Potus’ tweets to crayon scrawlings. Indeed, it is absurd that – even without the childish font – one particular bill that was introduced within the first month of Trump taking office looked just as puerile. Proposed by Matt Gaetz, a Republican who had been in Congress for barely a month, “H.R. 861” was only one sentence long:

“The Environmental Protection Agency shall terminate on December 31, 2018”.

If this seems like a stunt, that is because Gaetz is unlikely to actually achieve his stated aim. Drafting such a short bill without any co-sponsors – and leaving it to a novice Congressman to present – is hardly the best strategy to ensure a bill will pass. 

Still, Republicans' distrust for environmental protections is well-known - long-running cartoon show The Simpsons even did a send up of the Epa where the agency had its own private army. So what else makes H.R. 861 implausible?

Well, the 10-word-long statement neglects to address the fact that many federal environmental laws assume the existence of or defer to the Epa. In the event that the Epa was abolished, all of these laws – from the 1946 Atomic Energy Act to the 2016 Frank R. Lautenberg Chemical Safety for the 21st Century Act – would need to be amended. Preferably, a way of doing this would be included in the bill itself.

Additionally, for the bill to be accepted in the Senate there would have to be eight Democratic senators who agreed with its premise. This is an awkward demand when not even all Republicans back Trump. The man Trum appointed to the helm of the Epa, Scott Pruitt, is particularly divisive because of his long opposition to the agency. Republican Senator Susan Collins of Maine said that she was hostile to the appointment of a man who was “so manifestly opposed to the mission of the agency” that he had sued the Epa 14 times. Polls from 2016 and 2017 suggests that most Americans would be also be opposed to the agency’s termination.

But if Trump is incapable of entirely eliminating the Epa, he has other ways of rendering it futile. In January, Potus banned the Epa and National Park Services from “providing updates on social media or to reporters”, and this Friday, Trump plans to “switch off” the government’s largest citizen-linked data site – the Epa’s Open Data Web Service. This is vital not just for storing and displaying information on climate change, but also as an accessible way of civilians viewing details of local environmental changes – such as chemical spills. Given the administration’s recent announcement of his intention to repeal existing safeguards, such as those to stabilise the climate and protect the environment, defunding this public data tool is possibly an attempt to decrease awareness of Trump’s forthcoming actions.

There was also a recent update to the webpage of the Epa's Office of Science and Technology, which saw all references to “science-based” work removed, in favour of an emphasis on “national economically and technologically achievable standards”. 

Trump’s reshuffle of the Epa's priorities puts the onus on economic activity at the expense of public health and environmental safety. Pruitt, who is also eager to #MakeAmericaGreatAgain, spoke in an interview of his desire to “exit” the 2015 Paris Climate Agreement. He was led to this conclusion because of his belief that the agreement means “contracting our economy to serve and really satisfy Europe, and China, and India”.

 

Rather than outright closure of the Epa, its influence and funding are being leached away. H.R. 861 might be a subtle version of one of Potus’ Twitter taunts – empty and outrageous – but it is by no means the only way to drastically alter the Epa’s landscape. With Pruitt as Epa Administrator, the organisation may become a caricature of itself – as in The Simpsons Movie. Let us hope that the #resistance movements started by “Rogue” Epa and National Parks social media accounts are able to stave off the vultures until there is “Hope” once more.

 

Anjuli R. K. Shere is a 2016/17 Wellcome Scholar and science intern at the New Statesman

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