By Tom Steward | Watchdog Minnesota
MINNEAPOLIS — You don’t have to be a stamp collector to notice something different about some of your snail mail lately.
The cancellation mark rolling over the stamp on many envelopes consists of four stick-like towers and a shimmering sun over an ink-blotted tag line for “Earth Day 2013”.
The seemingly innocuous US Postal Service (USPS) Earth Day postal mark will be gone like the wind as of May 1, but some opponents of corporate wind power projects have no intention of letting it go.
“We are VERY unappreciative of this symbol being used by the USPS for Earth Day,” Marie McNamara recently emailed postal officials in Washington. “Thanks for putting us on record as strongly objecting to the symbol of industrial wind turbines as a postmark. Thanks for putting us on record as wanting to see the postmark go away immediately.”
McNamara belongs to a group of residents opposing one of the nation’s most controversial wind farm proposals, due to health and safety concerns, as well as the potential impact on bald eagles and other wildlife in southeastern Minnesota.
After her initial annoyance, McNamara and others began looking into how a sector of the energy industry they have spent so many years fighting succeeded in promoting its message in mailboxes around the country.
“I was curious who wanted it and who paid for it?” long-time wind farm opponent Kristi Rosenquist said. “From my perspective, I’m in a community that’s been under siege for four years. The last thing I want to see on my mail in a bunch of wind turbines.”
Wind and solar energy proponents also took note.
“Wind turbines and the sun symbol are two icons easily recognizable as symbols of environmental stewardship,” blogged Paul Gipe, a longtime alternative energy advocate. “So it was appropriate that I recently received a letter from my mother postmarked Indianapolis, Indiana that celebrates Earth Day 2013 with an image of wind turbines and the sun.”
It’s not clear whether the Obama administration, USPS or a group associated with the wind or solar industry requested and submitted the special postmark. McNamara has requested USPS officials in Washington to release the name or group behind the campaign and how much it cost.
USPS spokesman Peter Nowacki in Minneapolis confirmed the Earth Day postmark falls under the category of “special cancellations”.
Guidelines posted online by USPS define limits on design, sponsors and reason for the postmark. According to those guidelines, the sponsor of the postmark must cover all costs associated with its use.
“Special cancellations are authorized only if the scheduled observance is for a national purpose for which Congress has made an appropriation, or is of general public interest and importance,” the post office website states. “Special cancellations are approved for a definite period not to exceed 6 months, and must not be conducted for private gain or profit.”
McNamara has raised the issue of whether the wind and solar image violates guidelines that appear to prohibit the use of illustrations in “special cancellations”.
U.S. Rep. John Kline, their congressman and a committee chairman who’s been sympathetic to their cause, agreed to look into the matter.
“We are questioning if this special cancellations mark has been done according to rules,” said McNamara, a commercial artist. “My understanding of the rules is that it’s not to be an image but only wording to promote the event, which was Earth Day.”
Postal service representatives in Washington have passed along McNamara’s complaints to officials, while referring further complainants to the USPS consumer advocate.
Contact Tom Steward at [email protected].