Washington Chris Pearson, a state legislator in Vermont, 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, which are 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 dispatched postmasters to testify before legislative committees around the country.
"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."
'Mail Moves America'
The Postal Service is working closely with the Direct Marketing Association, the trade group that represents retailers and the printing industry, in its new campaign - Mail Moves America - which is designed to quash the Do Not Mail initiatives.
So far, their efforts appear effective. None of the states where Do Not Mail legislation has been introduced since 2007 has approved a law. And no similar legislation is pending in Congress.
Sean Sheehan of the Center for a New American Dream, a progressive group based in Takoma Park, Md., said state efforts may precede national action, just as they did with the Do Not Call Registry.
"Federal legislators are more sensitive to the heavy lobbying of the paper industry, as well as the impact on the postal service, whereas a lot of state legislators are really more in tune with local needs," Sheehan said. "It's local governments that have to pay millions to truck that trash out to landfills."
Perhaps surprisingly, environmental groups - whose members say they are concerned about junk mail - are cool to the idea of a registry that prohibits marketers from sending mail to those enrolled and that fines violators.
One reason may be that most environmental groups are themselves junk mailers. They use standard mail for their solicitation letters.
A national registry "would affect anybody who mails," said Laura Hickey, senior director of global warming education at the National Wildlife Foundation, which belongs to the Direct Marketing Association. "I don't think it would be any different whether you were for-profit or nonprofit." As an alternative, the National Wildlife Foundation, the Natural Resources Defense Council and other groups have created Catalog Choice, a program that asks retailers to voluntarily stop sending catalogs to anyone who signs up for the free online service at www.catalogchoice.org.
"If people participate in a voluntary system, then I don't see the need for a legislative strategy," Hickey said. When Catalog Choice was launched in October, the foundation expected about 150,000 people to sign up in the first year. Six months into the project, more than 642,000 people have joined.
Still, it is unclear how many marketers are heeding requests to stop mailing.
The Direct Marketing Association operates its own registry, www.dmachoice .org, and in an e-mail sent last November, instructed its members to ignore Catalog Choice.
Postal officials say they are aware of the environmental concerns related to junk mail. In testimony on Capitol Hill last week, Postmaster General John E. Potter told lawmakers that the Postal Service has one answer: Recycling bins positioned beneath personal mailboxes at post offices, to catch junk mail as it tumbles out.