Morning Call: pick of the papers

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

1. Britain’s perilous austerity bunker (Financial Times)

Cameron’s arguments against fiscal policy flexibility are wrong, says Martin Wolf.

2. Labour needs to do more than simply wait for Cameron to fail (Daily Telegraph)

If Ed Miliband wants to keep his lead he must be bold and address his party’s past failings, writes Mary Riddell.

3. This isn't self-determination. It's a Ruritanian colonial relic (Guardian)

The vote for British rule in the Falklands referendum dodges the point, says Seumas Milne. It's time for a negotiated settlement with Argentina.

4. There’s only one solution to the PM’s dilemma (Times) (£)

How do you appease rebels and yet pursue policies they oppose, asks Daniel Finkelstein. Appeal to swing voters – and show you are a winner.

5. Syria: don't fan the flames of conflict (Guardian

Offering support to Syria's rebels risks intensifying a tragic civil war, says Douglas Alexander. We must work with Russia for a political transition.

6. The world needs to understand Putin (Financial Times)

This conservative is no friend of a tired status quo, writes Alexandr Dugin.

7. 'Like' it or not, privacy has changed in the Facebook age (Guardian)

It's hardly a shock to learn that fans of The L Word are lesbians, writes Helen Lewis. We need to relax about online privacy

8. Could the yoke of Merkel's austerity really lead to conflict in Europe again? (Daily Mail)

Ever more citizens in the Mediterranean countries argue that for the third time in less than 100 years Germany is trying to take control of Europe, writes Dominic Sandbrook. 

9. The seeds of an NHS revolution are sown (Daily Telegraph)

Health expert Don Berwick's decree that 'no harm should be regarded as acceptable' must prove to be a turning point, says a Telegraph leader.

10. Why we went our own way on Leveson (Independent)

Private talks between the press and a Prime Minister who said he could deliver a non-statutory formula have sapped collective confidence, says Independent editor Chris Blackhurst.

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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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