USPS trucks

A mail carrier loads a U.S. Postal Service truck. (Photo: Jeff Greenberg/Universal Images Group via Getty Images)

Watchdog Finds Postal Service Could Serve 99% of Routes With Electric Fleet

The report comes as Democrats in Congress are challenging Postmaster General Louis DeJoy's plan to buy new gas-powered delivery trucks despite the global need to transition off of fossil fuels.

"A gas-guzzling fleet is clearly the wrong choice."

That's what Congressman Jared Huffman (D-Calif.) said in response to a new report from the U.S. Postal Service Office of Inspector General (OIG) about how transitioning to electric vehicles (EVs) would impact the USPS.

The OIG analysis, released last week, came as Huffman and other Democrats in Congress are challenging Postmaster General Louis DeJoy's contract with Oshkosh Defense for new mostly gas-powered mail trucks, given climate experts' warnings about the need to keep fossil fuels in the ground.

"The U.S. Postal Service employs 217,000 delivery vehicles to deliver mail and parcels to more than 135 million addresses. Many of these vehicles are beyond their intended service life and expensive to operate and maintain," states the report. "The Postal Service is at a critical inflection point for its aging fleet and is preparing to acquire and operate a new generation of delivery vehicles."

The OIG "identified several clear benefits of adopting electric vehicles into the postal delivery fleet, including improved sustainability and environmental impacts," the document continues. "Electric vehicles are generally more mechanically reliable than gas-powered vehicles and would require less maintenance. Energy costs will be lower for electric vehicles, as using electricity to power an electric vehicle is cheaper than using gasoline."

"Our research confirms that electric vehicle technology is generally capable of meeting the Postal Service's needs," the analysis adds, pointing out that of the roughly 177,000 USPS routes nationwide, only "around 2,600 of these routes (1.5% of the total) may be poorly suited to electric vehicle deployment."

Most of the routes that are not well-suited for an EV are longer than the vehicle's 70-mile range, though the paper notes that some shorter routes "may also experience range limitations if they include hilly terrain, since acceleration up steep slopes can reduce the range of a fully charged battery."

The document also emphasizes that despite the higher upfront cost of buying new EVs and installing charging infrastructure, "the adoption of electric delivery vehicles could save the Postal Service money in the long term," particularly for longer routes that are up to 70 miles, because the USPS would save on rapidly rising gas costs.

As Government Executivereported Tuesday:

Postal management took significant issue with the IG's analysis, calling for corrections and further clarifications. It estimated, for example, that each charger would cost $18,000, whereas the IG said it would only be $7,300. The IG failed to consider the need for operational flexibility when suggesting the vehicles did not always need to stay fully charged, as well as the impact of postal-specific driving on a vehicle's drivetrain. The IG stuck by its analysis, saying no changes were necessary.

The outlet also noted that "postal management said it could fully electrify its fleet with an injection of $6.9 billion: $3 billion for the higher vehicle cost and $3.9 billion for the chargers. If such funding were provided, the IG said the lifetime cost of EVs would be 11% lower than gas vehicles. It added that USPS may be eligible for local incentives as well."

Though Congress recently passed a Postal Service reform bill, the bipartisan legislation did not include funding for EVs--and the House-approved Build Back Better package, which could provide billions of dollars for the USPS, remains stalled in the evenly split Senate.

Earlier this month, Congressman Gerry Connolly (D-Va.) introduced the Green Postal Service Fleet Act, which has been referred to the House Committee on Oversight and Reform. The bill would block the embattled postmaster general's contract by requiring that at least 75% of new USPS vehicles are electric or otherwise emissions-free.

When he unveiled the proposal, Connolly called the contested USPS contract a "flagrant contradiction" to President Joe Biden's goal of a fully electric federal fleet as well as "a devastating blow to our climate, to our effort to lead the world in green technology, and to our beloved Postal Service."

Last week, Connolly and Huffman joined Democratic Reps. Brenda Lawrence (Mich.), Stephen Lynch (Mass.), and Carolyn Maloney (N.Y.), chair of the oversight panel, in calling for an OIG probe of the contract. Upon releasing the new report, the watchdog said that it "will be doing additional work in response to that request."

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