March 1 2013
Why Are Environmentally-Conscious Senators Fighting For Junk Mail?
Carrie L. Lukas
Sen. Bernie Sanders, Nick Naylor is calling your office.
In Christopher Buckley’s bestselling book and 2005 film Thank You for Smoking, Naylor, a fictional lobbyist, is called to defend Big Tobacco before a Senate Committee led by a health-conscious Senator from Vermont. Naylor acknowledged the hazards of smoking cigarettes, but questions why a Senator whose constituents are famous for “clogging the nation’s arteries with Vermont Cheddar Cheese” should try to shame other industries for enabling people’s vices.
Vermont’s real-life Senator—a self-described “leading voice” on environmental issues—recently led five colleagues in introducing legislation to prevent the U.S. Postal Service (USPS) from moving forward with its plan to end Saturday mail delivery.
First, the Post Office’s move to end Saturday service starting this August should be applauded as a rare and commendable bow to financial reality from a government entity. USPS lost $15.8 billion in 2012; that’s nearly $58 million each day it delivered the mail. Ending Saturday mail delivery will save the cash-strapped organization at least $2 billion annually.
Most Americans greeted the news of USPS’s service change with a yawn. A CBS News poll found that 71 percent of Americans supported the move to halt Saturday delivery. That’s no wonder. According to Postal Service data, letters, greeting cards, post cards, and other personal correspondence between people—that’s just about everything people actually look forward to receiving in the mail—accounted for less than 3 percent of mail in 2011. The vast majority of the paper that stuffs our mailboxes is unwanted advertisements, catalogues, and newspaper fliers.
To the average citizen, limiting the chore of transferring unwanted junk mail from the mailbox to the recycling bin to Monday through Friday would be very welcome news. Yet the average person also doesn’t have much pull in Washington. That’s because—unlike the paper industry and businesses that create all the mail, as well as the union workers who sort and deliver it—normal people don’t hire lobbyists to tell Congress to stop wasting money subsidizing the delivery of unwanted paper to their homes.
Of course, the subsidizing of junk mail is more than just a nuisance and waste of financial resources. It is also a drain on natural resources. Perhaps it’s no surprise that Washington isn’t interested in the cause of de-cluttering constituents’ mail boxes, but surely one would think environmentally-conscience policymakers like Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont would consider the environmental impact of the U.S. Postal Service’s decision to end Saturday delivery of mail before working to prevent it.
After all, the government could make few moves that would so easily have an immediate and beneficial impact for the environment. Simply getting the tens of thousands of U.S. Postal Service vehicles that bring us our mail on Saturday off the road would be a good start for those concerned about carbon pollution. It would also help pardon a few of the 100 million trees used each year to make all of the junk mail that stuffs our nation’s landfills.
Sadly, it looks like rather than making actual immediate environmental progress while allowing a struggling federal entity to take a step toward solvency, Senator Sanders is joining Sen. Barbara Boxer to introduce comprehensive climate change legislation, which will include a carbon tax.
Americans are far less likely to get behind such sweeping environmental and economic policy, which is designed to discourage fuel use by making energy more expensive. And although champions of the legislation will go to lengthens to make it appear as though those evil fossil-fuel energy suppliers and energy-gobbling corporations will foot the bill, Americans have enough economic sense to know that ultimately those costs find their way to consumers and workers. Politicians may talk about the dreams of a “green energy economy,” but Americans have more immediate priorities: for starters, an economy that’s growing and producing enough jobs to put millions of un- and under-employed people to work.
Climate change legislation champions may try to guilt Americans into supporting a massive tax on energy, but Americans should keep in mind that Senators like Bernard Sanders aren’t even willing to sacrifice Saturday mail service or risk upsetting the junk mail lobby on behalf of the environment. What other common sense reforms is Washington thwarting on behalf of special interests? That’s a question for Americans to contemplate as they toss their junk mail on Saturday.