Yesterday’s Washington Post had a fascinating article by Lyndsey Layton about how the U.S. Postal Service is teaming up with the junk mail lobby to stamp out (heh heh) efforts to create state or national “Do Not Mail” lists that would allow people to opt out of receiving commercial solicitations. That’s no surprise: junk mail is big business, and the postal service, the paper companies, and the junk mailers don’t want anything that would interfere with their cash flow, no matter how many forests are destroyed to make the paper.

But inside the article was the bizarre revelation that some environmental groups “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.”

Indeed, Laura Hickey of the National Wildlife Federation — a member of the Direct Marketing Association — claimed that the national registry “would affect anybody who mails … I don’t think it would be any different whether you were for-profit or non-profit.”

Actually, no: all of the proposals for a Do Not Mail registry would include free-speech protections for non-profit and political groups. And, according to Todd Paglia, executive director of ForestEthics, the organization behind the Do Not Mail campaign, Hickey herself was told that on three occasions.

But hey — what’s good enough for President Bush is good enough for Laura Hickey: “If people participate in a voluntary system, then I don’t see the need for a legislative strategy,” Hickey was quoted as saying. NWF Vice President Jennifer Jones, who stood by Hickey’s comments, claimed that NWF “wasn’t participating with ForestEthics because we’re totally focused on passing Lieberman-Warner” climate legislation, which the Bush administration opposes because it isn’t a voluntary approach. But whatever.

Indeed, National Wildlife Federation has teamed up with the Natural Resources Defense Council to launch a voluntary effort called Catalog Choice, which allows consumers to opt out of receiving catalogs — but not direct-mail solicitations like credit card companies and, er, environmental groups send. But the two groups have a very different approach to junk mail. NRDC Federal Communications Director Julia Bovey told me that while her group thinks voluntary efforts are part of the solution, they’re increasingly concerned by paper industry lobbying efforts to keep the mountain of mail flowing.

“Junk mail is a huge problem that needs to be addressed,” she said. “Catalog Choice is our first crack at that. But when you hear about the huge amount of money the paper industry is throwing at this, it makes you think maybe we have to go down the road of legislation.”

Bovey also expressed concern about the letter that the Direct Marketing Association sent to its members, telling them to ignore Catalog Choice.

Now, I think it’s perfectly okay for environmental groups to contact members and prospects using direct mail. For one thing, most use recycled paper. But I also believe that they’re putting the money they raise to good use — saving far more trees than they’re destroying.

NWF is a good example: they’re the best in the business at getting hunters and anglers behind conservation measures, a vital asset when you’re working to pass legislation.

But hunters and anglers hate junk mail as much as the rest of us, and they might not be so amenable to NWF’s entreaties when they find out that the environmental group is providing rhetorical defense to the folks filling their mailboxes with habitat-destroying, global warming-producing mail.

Postscript: If you want to stop direct mail, you can sign ForestEthics’ petition here, try to get off catalog mailing lists with Catalog Choice here, and attempt to navigate the Direct Marketing Association’s byzantine, propaganda-clogged opt-out system here — worth checking out just to see their highly dubious claims and watch how much they try to complicate it.