Caring for the Environment

Regarding the Habitat page articles "Community Recycling Reduces Trash Trail," and "Recycling Glut: Too Much Supply," June 18: Government collection programs have collected more materials than private firms will buy, primarily because of high prices due to collection and proces- sing costs. However, the answer provided in your coverage - government mandates - is misguided.

The costs represent the fuel used to collect and transport these goods, as well as water and energy used to process them. In that case, mandating that firms buy materials - regardless of the price - may lead to recycling that actually uses more resources than it saves.

Despite these obstacles, recycling is productive in many cases. Unfortunately, the government's approach has created problems and may waste resources because it ignores market forces. Better options exist. Angela Logomasini, Washington Director of Solid Waste Policy, Citizens for the Environment

In the Opinion page article "Government-Imposed Energy Efficiency - a Bad Idea," June 30, the author does not consider two fundamental aspects of the American economy.

First, he does not recognize the common-sense notion that "there is no such thing as a free lunch." The utilization of any resource always bears a cost, although not always in monetary terms. Because the market lacks a mechanism to measure the cost of using the atmosphere as a garbage dump, polluters can contaminate our air free of charge.

Second, despite its potential for profit, market forces will not naturally draw investors into the use of renewable energy sources for two reasons. One is the huge start-up costs in the environment of an unchartered and capital-intensive market. The other is that the structure of the US economy motivates firms to acquire short-term profit instead of setting goals for economic vitality in the long term.

Since our "free" market does not perform in a perfect manner, the intervention of an outside agency - in this case the US government - is a necessity if we are to insure the long-term health of our economy, and of the generations to come. Michael Toppa, Santa Cruz, Calif.

Your editorial "The Earth Summit's Legacy," June 17, misleads readers by suggesting that cows are significant contributors to possible global warming. In fact, scientists have already proven that methane emitted through cows' natural digestion process makes no significant contribution to global-warming effects.

Dr. Duane Chapman of Cornell University, in Ithaca, N.Y., recently noted that the methane emitted by one cow in a year had the same effect on global warming as the fuel burned to power a single 75-watt light bulb. He concluded that our money would be much better spent replacing 75-watt bulbs with 18-watt fluorescent bulbs than trying to regulate bovine belches. That's certainly information Americans can put to work in the wake of the Earth Summit. Gregory Ruehle, Washington, National Cattlemen's Association

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