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A postal worker blows a kiss to demonstrators

A postal worker blows a kiss toward people attending a "Save the Post Office" demonstration in Los Angeles on August 22, 2020. (Photo: Kyle Grillot/AFP via Getty Images)

'Public Pressure Works': Postal Service to Boost Electric Vehicle Purchases After Backlash

This announcement is a step in the right direction, said one advocate, but "we won't settle" until the postal fleet is made up of "100% union-built electric vehicles."

Kenny Stancil

Pressure from progressive advocacy groups and lawmakers bore fruit on Wednesday when the U.S. Postal Service announced that it would be making 40% of its new delivery vehicles electric, up from Postmaster General Louis DeJoy's initial plan to electrify just 10% of the mail agency's aging fleet.

"The agency's original plan for a fleet of 90% fossil fuel trucks should have never been a consideration."

The news comes in the wake of a lawsuit filed in late April by a coalition of environmental organizations that accused the USPS of conducting an unlawfully shoddy analysis of the widely condemned plan's climate impacts. More than a dozen state attorney generals and the United Auto Workers (UAW) also sued to halt DeJoy's anti-green and anti-labor procurement scheme pending a comprehensive review of its ecological and public health consequences.

"Public pressure works, and today's announcement from the Postal Service is proof of that," Katherine García, director of the Sierra Club's Clean Transportation for All campaign, said in a statement. "The agency's original plan for a fleet of 90% fossil fuel trucks should have never been a consideration."

"Still, making only half of its delivery fleet electric does not go far enough to address climate change or improve air quality in neighborhoods across the nation," said García. "There is also no guarantee in today's announcement that union workers will be building these pollution-free vehicles."

"This is an opportunity to transform the postal fleet to be 100% union-built electric vehicles," she added. "We won't settle for anything less."

Adrian Martinez, senior attorney on Earthjustice's Right to Zero campaign, said that "the facts on the ground show that mail trucks in the U.S. can and should be electric."

"These vehicles are amongst the easiest to electrify, as they tend to run on short, set routes, idling often," said Martinez. "After a swift spate of lawsuits from environmental groups and UAW, inquiries from members of Congress, and a barrage of public pressure from Americans weighing in with thousands of public comments, the Postal Service is beginning to get the message."

According to Earthjustice, its supporters alone submitted more than 100,000 public comments to protest DeJoy's attempt to purchase tens of thousands of gas-powered postal trucks that get less than 9 mpg with air conditioning on amid an escalating climate emergency.

The Sierra Club and its allies, meanwhile, delivered more than 150,000 petitions to the USPS Board of Governors and almost 300,000 emails to federal lawmakers making the case for why the mail agency should ditch the needlessly destructive vehicle procurement plan pushed by DeJoy—a scandal-plagued megadonor to former President Donald Trump.

Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y.), chair of the House Committee on Oversight and Reform, praised Wednesday's announcement by USPS—which followed a hearing by and letter from her committee—while vowing to "fight for the Postal Service fleet to fully transition to electric vehicles."

Transportation represents the largest single source of U.S. greenhouse gas pollution, which President Joe Biden has pledged to cut in half by the end of the decade. Electrification of USPS delivery trucks, which make up about a third of the federal fleet, would go a long way toward realizing the White House's proposed shift to zero-emission government vehicles.

When it awarded Oshkosh Defense with a lucrative 10-year contract last year, USPS said that the Wisconsin-based corporation would begin supplying the mail agency's "Next Generation Delivery Vehicle" fleet—up to 165,000 new trucks manufactured by nonunionized workers in South Carolina—in 2023.

Just 10% of the fleet was expected to be electric as recently as February. But when USPS ordered its first batch of 50,000 trucks from Oshkosh in March, roughly 10,000, or 20%, were electric.

On Wednesday, USPS further increased the proportion of electric vehicles in its initial order, saying that it now plans for at least 25,000 of the first 50,000 trucks produced by Oshkosh to be electric. In addition, the mail agency said that it will purchase another 34,500 commercially available vehicles over a two-year period, of which 40% will be electric.

As The Washington Post reported:

The Postal Service is the process of centralizing mail delivery routes into major processing plants, dramatically reducing, experts say, the costs associated with electric vehicle charging infrastructure.

Congress in March also passed a $107 billion agency overhaul, freeing up money that postal leaders had long sought for capital improvements. Lawmakers from both parties specifically pointed to the agency's need for new trucks—its fleet now is 30 years old, and has neither air bags nor air conditioning—to keep up with private sector [electric vehicle] investments in approving the legislation.

[...]

[A]gency leaders and even some of DeJoy's advisers have for months pushed the postal chief to move the agency away from the Oshkosh deal. The contract required a minimum purchase of 50,000 vehicles, after which the agency could open a new round of bidding for trucks—or seek a better bargain with Oshkosh—at a time when experts predict the price of electric vehicles and their expensive batteries will have dropped.

"The Postal Service anticipates evaluating and procuring vehicles over shorter time periods to be more responsive to its evolving operational strategy, technology improvements, and changing market conditions, including the expected increased availability of [battery electric vehicle] options in the future," the agency said in a statement Wednesday.

While the Postal Service's move to decrease the percentage of new gas-powered vehicles it is buying from 90% to 60% is a step in the right direction, it "should only be the beginning," said Martinez. "It's well past time we started replacing retiring gas trucks with electric mail trucks made right here with good, union jobs."

"Ultimately, the entire postal fleet needs to be electrified to deliver clean air in every neighborhood in the country and avoid volatile gas prices," he added. "The fight continues for an electrified postal delivery fleet."

In an early April interview with the Post, DeJoy argued that an all-electric fleet would be too costly. Critics have debunked the postmaster general's narrative, citing research that shows 97% of USPS trucks can be replaced with electric vehicles at a lower overall cost than comparable gas and diesel vehicles.

Biden's two new nominees to the Postal Service board were confirmed in May, but the only body with the authority to fire DeJoy has yet to do so.


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