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Five myths about the U.S. Postal Service

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Last year, we recycled more than 200,000 tons of paper, plastics and other waste -- the equivalent of saving 1.67 million barrels of oil, according to an online Environmental Protection Agency calculator. There are Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED)-certified post offices, a 2.5-acre green roof on a major facility in downtown Manhattan, solar photovoltaic building systems and other sustainable building designs in use across the country.

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Still, saving the environment doesn't begin and end with the Postal Service. That's why we encourage our customers to "read, respond and recycle." In 8,000 post offices nationwide, signs remind P.O. box customers to open their mail, take whatever action is necessary and place the waste in our recycling bins. The EPA reports that standard mail represents less than 2.1 percent of the material in our nation's landfills. (By comparison, disposable diapers represent 2.2 percent, glass beer and soft-drink bottles 3 percent, and yard trimmings 6.9 percent.)

5. The USPS can't compete with the private sector.

The Postal Service can and does compete. Our closest competitors, UPS and FedEx, don't threaten our business; as two of our biggest customers, they help build it. Our competition pays us to deliver more than 400 million of their ground packages every year in residential areas and on Saturdays. In turn, the USPS contracts with UPS and FedEx for air transportation to take advantage of their comprehensive air networks.

Although stamp prices have increased about 33 percent over the past 10 years, this increase is in line with inflation. By comparison, private carriers raised their prices by as much as 60 percent between 1999 and 2009. The Postal Service is, and has always been, a bargain.

It's no secret that the Postal Service has been losing money since 2007. What are not well known are the financial demands of the Postal Reform Act of 2006 -- demands not faced by the private sector. Though the USPS is self-supporting, its finances are tied to the federal budget because postal employees participate in federal retirement plans. In 2006, Congress required that the USPS prefund 80 percent of future postal retiree health benefits. This will cost more than $5 billion a year through 2016. No other federal agency or private company carries such a heavy burden.

Without the prefunding requirement, the Postal Service would have been better able to weather the recent recession. In 2008, prefunding contributed to a loss of $2.8 billion. Without it, we would have been $2.8 billion in the black.

Though we operate in a difficult legislative and economic environment, we are prepared to forge ahead. On March 2, we are releasing our plan for future financial viability and greater business flexibility -- a plan that will keep the Postal Service thriving for years to come.

John E. Potter is postmaster general of the United States.


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