Sunday September 11 marked the 10th anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks in New York City, Washington, D.C. and Pennsylvania. I remember leaving my home in Washington, D.C. on the morning of September 11, 2001 for the trip to Baltimore and feeling exhilarated by what a spectacularly beautiful day it was. I was on the telephone from my car to a financial services company in New York City when the news broke about the first plane to hit the World Trade Center. I continued to drive to Baltimore and eventually was able to reach my wife who was working in an elementary school on Capitol Hill. She reported that they could see the smoke rising from the Pentagon where another plane had crashed. When I reached Baltimore I called her parents because it was difficult for anyone to make contact by mobile phones given circuit overload.
Two events that occurred the day before and the day after 9/11 remain particularly striking to me. On Monday July 10, 2001 I was a guest speaker at the annual conference of the National Association of Administrative Law Judges in Rehoboth Beach, Delaware. My talk was on the history of environmental risk regulation and I remember noting that two of the concerns that A cartoon published the weekend before depicted someone’s car being hit by a shark talking on a cellphone. While driving back to Baltimore after my morning presentation, I listened in my car to C-Span Radio which broadcast a presentation from the National Press Club by Delaware Senator Joe Biden. He was criticizing the Bush administration for its decision to pursue a missile defense shield for the U.S. Biden argued that future threats facing America were unlikely to include nuclear missiles, but instead would feature unconventional attacks by terrorists, including perhaps suitcase nuclear bombs.
The second memory was that I was scheduled to host a delegation of environmental law professors from Iran who were going to speak at a faculty lunch at Maryland day after 9/11. In May 2001 I had joined Bern Johnson from E-Law International and Richard Lazarus from Georgetown on a trip to Iran to present a week-long environmental law workshop at the University of Tehran. The trip was sponsored by a group called Search for Common Ground. On that trip we met many inspiring individuals from the public interest movement in Iran which was struggling mightily against an oppressive government. I subsequently agreed to serve on the Advisory Board of the University of Tehran’s impressive Journal of Environmental Research. The five-person delegation from Iran was at Georgetown on 9/11 and we agreed to continue with our scheduled program at Maryland the following day. During the program I showed the faculty a film I had made about our workshop that included lots of scenes of daily life in Iran. The five Iranian environmental law professors participated in a panel discussion that touched on the events of the previous day, with the Iranians questioning why their government was immediately considered a suspect. The Iranians reported that their country was in mourning for the victims of the terrorist attacks and that the Mayor of Tehran had sent his condolences to Mayor Giuliani. The group visited my Environmental Law class that day where they discussed their efforts to upgrade Iran’s environmental laws.
I regret that subsequent events have made it impossible for me to continue regular contact with the inspiring public interest community in Iran even though my name is still on the list of advisors to the Journal of Environmental Research, which I receive regularly and read with interest. Prior to 9/11 the Bush administration had tried to justify its abrupt March 2001 about-face on controlling emissions of greenhouse gases by arguing that the cost would wreck the U.S. economy. Yet after 9/11 it spent far more money on the “war on terror” without producing the forecast economic damage (the severe 2008 global recession was spawned by subsequent events). An article in today’s New York Times estimates that the cost of the 9/11 attacks to the U.S. has been $3.3 trillion when one takes into account the physical and economic damage of the attacks ($55 billion and $123 billion, respectively), the cost of increased homeland security ($589 billion), the cost of wars in Iraq and Afghanistan ($1.649 trillion plus $277 in future war funding through 2016 and $589 billion for the future cost of caring for veterans). Amanda Cox, A 9/11 Tally: $3.3 Trillion, N.Y. Times, Sept. 11, 2011, at 13 (special section). For an explanation of how security barriers have become more ecologically conscious, see Henry Fountain, The Age of the Eco-Citadel, N.Y. Times, Sept. 11, 2011, at 23 (“The Reckoning” special section).
Last week the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) split 2-2 (with one recusal due to a perceived conflict of interest) in ruling on a motion to deny the Obama administration’s request to withdraw the Department of Energy’s application to site a repository of high-level radioactive waste at Yucca Mountain, Nevada. As a result of this vote, the application will be withdrawn. Ryan TRacy, Regulator’s Vote Dims Prospects for Yucca Project, Wall St. J., Sept. 10, 2011.
Yoshio Hachiro, the new Japanese minister for trade and industry, was forced to resign last week as a result of statements he made about the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear accident. Last Thursday he created a furor by referring to cities in the exclusion zone around the plant as “dead towns.” Later that day he exclaimed “look out, radiation!” while pretending to wipe contamination off his protective clothing on a reporter after returning from a trip to the plant. Martin Fackler, Japense Official Resigns Over Radiation Joke, N.Y. TImes, Sept. 9, 2011.
A bit of good news: the adult smoking rate in the United States fell last year. Only 19.3% of adults in the U.S. smoked in 2010. This is a decrease from the 21% who reportedly smoking five years earlier in 2005.