Vermont legislator Chris Pearson had a sense that the people were with him when he proposed a bill last November to allow residents to block junk mail.
He got media attention, radio interview requests and e-mails from constituents eager to stop the credit card offers, furniture catalogs and store fliers that increasingly clog their mailboxes.
Then came the pushback from the postmasters, who told Pearson and other lawmakers that “standard” mail, the post office’s name for junk mail, has become the lifeblood of the U.S. Postal Service and that jobs depend on it.
“The post office and the business groups are pretty well-organized,” said Pearson, whose bill remains in a committee and has not been scheduled for a vote.
Barred by law from lobbying, the Postal Service is nonetheless trying to make its case before a growing number of state legislatures that are weighing bills to create Do Not Mail registries, similar to the popular National Do Not Call Registry.
The agency has printed 3,000 “information packets” about the economic value of standard mail, with specific data for each of the 18 states that have considered a Do Not Mail Registry. It has sent postmasters to testify before legislative committees across the nation.
“The Postal Service has come in and clobbered legislators,” said Todd Paglia, executive director of ForestEthics, an environmental group that has collected 289,000 signatures on an online petition to Congress that calls for a National Do Not Mail Registry. “It’s really a people-versus-special interest kind of battle.”
I have a modest amount of sympathy for the Postal Service here. If my mail is like most people’s, then junk mail really is their biggest part of the business, and I can’t blame them for fighting to protect that business. Doesn’t mean I want to see them win that fight, but I don’t think they’re evil for engaging it. I should also point out that as is the case with email spam, the catalog problem would largely solve itself if people simply stopped responding to them. This stuff continues to exist because it works.
Despite the Postal Service’s efforts, I do think that we will have a Do Not Mail registry some day. This is an idea that’s going to be very popular, and once a few states succeed in passing a law, there will be a lot of pressure on Congress to follow suit. It will likely take several years, but I believe it will happen. In the meantime, I recommend using Catalog Choice to reduce your own personal junk mail burden. And contact your state rep and Congressperson if you want to get the ball rolling on the ultimate goal.