Environmental Benefit Analysis

Art Madsen, M.Ed.

I. Energy Conservation

In recent years, energy conservation measures have become increasingly prominent in the minds of politicians and the public-at-large. This is particularly so in New Mexico where environmental concerns rank traditionally high among priorities. A widely acclaimed, synthesized approach to conservation in this state involves (1) recycling of resources and (2) minimal use of fuels and petroleum based products. This combination of efforts leads to enormous cost savings and significant reduction of pollution.

In recognition of the effectiveness of such a bifurcated strategy, legislation has been consistently promulgated in Santa Fe to minimize damage to ecologically sensitive resources due to mismanagement or overuse of petroleum-based combustibles and other deleterious fuels. In fact, the State's Transportation Services Division (TSD) has launched an intensive Alternative Fuels Conversion initiative affecting all state-operated vehicles and heavy machinery (Moores, GSD, 1999). Such a program benefits the entire community, whether rural or urban, by enhancing air-quality and ensuring more efficiently operated fleets with minimal wastage of fuel, lubricants and replacement parts. Featured in this program, according to a TSD Public Information release (Moores, GSD, 1999) are electricity, natural gas, propane and LNG-type fuels. No thought seems to have been given to gasohol, however, as in Brazil and other countries, due essentially to public perception of this specific alternative fuel.

The TSD's program, in conjunction with a vigorous resource-recycling program, could, on the one hand, effectively promote the environmentalists' goals and objectives. On the other hand, both the industrial and business sectors would be pleased with such a program due to enhanced cost-savings and improved product quality. Such a 'bi-lateral' strategy (pleasing to all concerned) could prove useful in a number of different economic sectors.

In addition to the alternative fuels itemized above, the attention of engineers and resource specialists at New Mexico's Energy Minerals and Natural Resources Department has focused on renewable sources of energy such as solar and wind power (EMNRD, 1999); this is particularly the case since these modalities produce no pollution and are virtually free for the taking. In a sense, these alternative energy sources could be construed as 'passive recycling' of natural resources. Wind farms are being considered in areas of the State where they have not been previously installed. Similarly, solar panels, using the latest in photovoltaic technology, are being installed on several newly designed state-sponsored structures (ECMD, 1999).

It would be valid to assert that energy conservation strategies found useful in other states can be applied in New Mexico with excellent results. As a case in point, promotion of car-pooling reduces petroleum-based fuel consumption uniformly throughout the year. Additionally, by improving state building codes, which would mandate the use of recycled materials, and by implementing energy-saving construction methods, involving insulation and roofing materials, massive cost reductions for homeowners and industrial consumers can be realized. An adjunct benefit of such code modifications, for all residents of the State, according to New Mexico Conservation and Management Division estimates, will entail reduction of fossil fuel burning during cold weather and at high altitudes (ECMD, 1999).

Not least importantly, more sophisticated plans are being developed in the Southwest, as elsewhere in the nation, in order to achieve significant cost reductions and, simultaneously, minimize consumption of non-ecologically acceptable fuels, through a combination of recycling efforts and 'economically sensitive' planning. This is primarily the case in the processing and transport of massive amounts of solid waste. Indeed, a typical county in the United States can produce some 400,000 tons of solid waste annually (LCSWMA, 1999). Given the vast quantities of solid waste requiring treatment and shipping to disposal sites, it is to the advantage of planners to reduce energy consumption and spare the environment onerous damage, as well as potentially permanent losses, through contamination, involving destruction of watershed, foliage and soil, among other adverse eco-systemic effects. Figure I, appended, portrays the technological approaches which are being implemented in many states to streamline transport and processing of solid waste. In the case of such waste, it is not the waste per se which is involved in the energy conservation equation, but rather the fuels used to transport it and convert it. Noteworthy is the recoverability of a certain percentage (almost half) of these waste materials, once they have been converted by energy-conserving methods. ( Lawrence et al., 1980). Understandably, costs are reduced as a function of processed waste to the degree that it is recycled. This methodology is likely to be considered a viable strategic approach for use in the Land of Enchantment, as well.

Waste water treatment, a process vitally critical to any community large or small, can be similarly designed to reduce and conserve energy. A National Task Force to study improvements in the processing of waste water has been established (Stahl, 1982) and continues to achieve encouraging results. Recycling of waste water is also primary among the WPCF's strategic approaches, as described by Stahl (1982).

Overall, New Mexico is likely to adopt further measures which conserve energy consumption, reduce pollution, increase production 'per unit of fuel consumed' and cut costs while effectively serving the public interest and protecting the environment.

II. Natural Resource Conservation

Although energy conservation is a crucial element in the ecological equation, even more indispensable to implementing the environmental programs and objectives of State Legislators is the effort to protect and conserve the State's natural resource base. Involved are initiatives to preserve wetlands, riparian zones, swamps, watershed, grazing lands and soil resources, particularly in agriculturally sensitive regions. Some of these resources can be recycled using the latest technological developments. Other resources, however, are lost forever. The USDA successfully chaperoned a significant Farm Bill through Congress in 1996 (NRCS-USDA, 1999) which is still in effect and will continue to provide adequate and progressively effective measures deemed friendly to the environment on both public and private lands. Even though this natural resource conservation legislation is primarily aimed at farm-owners and operators, the implications are vast in light of the impressive percentage of farm and range land in states such as New Mexico. The Farm Bill of 1996 envisions a broad range of protective measures which essentially ensure a viable combination of natural resource conservation and crop productivity. Importantly, soil recycling and nutrient replenishment are among the provisions of this Bill.

Cropland, grazing land and wetlands must be healthy and ecologically stable; this requires a meticulously planned program of structured and balanced initiatives, such as recycling of retrievable resources (e.g. water, lumber, gravel). Conservation districts, for example, have been established under the Farm Bill and a number of Incentive Programs for farmers, to encourage them to comply with new regulations, have been designed. Of special importance is the Wetlands Reserve Program (WRP) which provides for extraordinary means to replenish and revitalize these critical natural resource assets (USDA-NRCS, 1999). This program, as well as others, have been funded into the year 2002 and beyond.

There have also been non-profit groups, independent of government agencies, which are responsible in New Mexico, and in the United States generally, for preservation of ecological resources, with special emphasis on wildlife (e.g. The Audubon Society and the Wildlife Federation). While we cannot recycle animals in the formal sense of the term, we can promote conditions which are conducive to breeding and reproduction.

Recognition that current measures must be sustained over a period of many generations is also a point raised by such ecologists as Owen, Chiras and Reganold in their comprehensive study of the management strategies applicable to our nation's natural resource base (Owen et al., 1998).

What benefits will be derived from a balanced and sane approach to natural resource conservation? This enquiry can be meaningfully addressed in a widely circulated Open-File Report issued five years ago by the U.S. Geological Survey (Foote et al., 1994) wherein the authors assert that an interdisciplinary conservation approach, inclusive of vigorous recycling of water, will assuredly result in resolving several major dilemmas confronting, among other areas and habitat-types throughout the nation, the Louisiana Coastal wetlands. By minimizing contaminants, through detoxification recycling processes, in the environment as a whole, and by doing so on a broad basis, contaminants may ultimately be eliminated from the food-chain, thus removing risk to human health and welfare. In addition to sustaining the intrinsic beauty of our natural resources, life itself is surely worthy of conserving, most conscientious analysts hasten to agree (Foote, et al., 1994, Owen et al., 1998 and others). When adding secondary goals and objectives, such as public recreational opportunities in conservation districts, to the overriding priorities related to sustaining life and natural habitat for future generations, it can be readily seen how indispensable preserving our national biospheric heritage has truly become.

III. Landfill Consolidation

Interrelated with the two foregoing environmental priorities is the controversial issue of 'landfill consolidation.' This issue is intrinsically connected, in turn, with 'productive recycling' of waste and refuse. Classically, a landfill was an excavated hollow defined essentially as an area where soil, mulch, or bio-degradable organic waste, free of contaminants and impurities, could be transported. The original idea was to replace lost or damaged fill in areas that required ecological restructuring (LCSWMA, 1999). Now, however, 'landfills' are considered nothing more than thinly disguised public dumps for trash, solid waste and often highly contaminated effluent or semi-liquefied sewage (Public Works, May 1999). A debate is flaring over what needs to be done to 'consolidate' landfills by reducing their number, redesigning them to hold greater capacities and making sure that toxic leachates do not infiltrate potable water supplies, aquifers or watersheds located nearby. Great pains are taken to reduce toxicity and bulk of waste dumped into landfills, through chemical treatment and compaction (Public Works, May 1999).

The appended chart, Figure I, plus Table 2 which indicates numerical data attesting to the benefits of recycling and resultant energy economies, demonstrate that recycling of up to fifty percent (50%) of recovered materials can culminate in significant savings and pollution reduction. This concept applies to natural resource conservation, energy conservation as well as landfill improvements, inclusive of consolidation. Engineers are perfecting new technological solutions, such as those itemized in detail in the cited Public Works article (May 1999) , based on re-generation of energy, recycling of resources and enhancement of existing processes.

In New Mexico, according to geologist Don Beardsley who is associated with a New Mexico environmental department, consolidation of landfills has been underway for several years. More than 12 such sites out of 90 located in the State have been, or will be, closed, he confirms (Quillen, 1994). Major concerns revolve around the pollution factor; indeed, a specific risk is contamination, via leaching, of aquifers and watershed areas vital to human and animal sustenance. By redesigning many landfill sites, through consolidation, recycling procedures and other measures, there will be many hardships imposed, financially, logistically and aesthetically, but the rewards will be avoidance of life-threatening contamination and widespread unsightliness.

In California, entire agencies, such as the Alameda County Resource and Recycling Board, are devoted to the study and implementation of recycling programs with respect to waste disposal, timber, water and alternative fuels. Additionally, Lancaster County (Pennsylvania) has embarked on a successful program which could be emulated in New Mexico (LCSWMA, 1999). Fortunately for residents of the Land of Enchantment, landfill consolidation, recycling and redesign are becoming realities in this environmentally conscious era. In fact, many of these recycling, consolidation and conservation concepts can be viably applied to the proposed recycling facility for the City of Las Cruces.


Foote, A., Bartlett, V., Williams, S.J., "Natural resource problem solving: an interdisciplinary approach in coastal Louisiana", An Open-File Report, U.S. Geological Survey, Reston, Virginia, 1994.

Lawrence, K., McRae, A., Alley, S. Energy Conservation Handbook, Aspen Systems Corporation Rockland Md, 1980.

Long, R.E. Energy and Conservation H.W. Wilson, New York City, 1989.

Moores, M., "GSD", New Mexico General Services Department Release , Transportation Services Division, May 14, 1998.

Owen, O., Chiras, D. and Reganold, J., Natural Resource Conservation: Management for a Sustainable Future, Prentice Hall, Upper Saddle River, N.J., 1998.

Quillen, E., "State by state trash", High Country News, 26:4, March 7, 1994.

Stahl, J. F., et al., "Energy conservation in the design and operation of wastewater treatment facilities", Task Force Report on Energy Conservation, Facilities Development Sub-Committee., Water Pollution Control Federation, Washington, D.C. 1982.

..................., Alameda County Resource and Recycling Board and Waste Management Authority,

..................., ECMD, and EMNRD, New Mexico Energy Conservation Management Division & New Mexico Energy Minerals and Natural Resources Department: An Internet Release.

..................., LCSWMA, Lancaster County Solid Waste Management Authority, Frey Mill Farm Landfill Page,

.................., "Refuse Transfer Station Manager Solves Flow Problem", Public Works, May 1999, 42-43.

.................., "The 1996 Farm Bill's Commitment to Conservation", NRCS, Natural Resources Conservation Service, U.S. Department of Agriculture, Farm Bill Communiqué