Postal Service stands by plan for internal combustion engines

USPS plans to purchase 50,000 to 165,000 delivery vehicles. At least 10 percent of those will be electric.

Postmaster General Louis DeJoy defended the service’s plan as ambitious given both a lack of funding and a pressing need to replace an aging fleet. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)
Postmaster General Louis DeJoy defended the service’s plan as ambitious given both a lack of funding and a pressing need to replace an aging fleet. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)
Posted February 24, 2022 at 8:00am

The U.S. Postal Service is pressing forward with its plan for a new fleet dominated by internal combustion engines despite objections from environmental groups, the Biden administration and Capitol Hill Democrats pushing it to aggressively embrace electric vehicles.

The mail service announced Wednesday that it was issuing a final record of decision to purchase and deploy 50,000 to 165,000 delivery vehicles. At least 10 percent of those will be electric.

Postmaster General Louis DeJoy defended the service’s plan as ambitious given both a lack of funding and a pressing need to replace an aging fleet that largely lacks air conditioning and modern safety features.

“As our financial position improves with the ongoing implementation of our 10-year plan, Delivering for America, we will continue to pursue the acquisition of additional [battery electric vehicles] as additional funding — from either internal or congressional sources — becomes available,” DeJoy said. “But the process needs to keep moving forward. The men and women of the U.S. Postal Service have waited long enough for safer, cleaner vehicles to fulfill on our universal service obligation to deliver to 161 million addresses in all climates and topographies six days per week.”

Congressional Democrats proposed giving the Postal Service billions of dollars to purchase electric trucks and build out infrastructure such as charging stations for the agency’s fleet in their now-stalled budget reconciliation package, dubbed “Build Back Better.”

The House-passed version would provide nearly $2.6 billion for electric truck purchases and $3.4 billion for associated infrastructure; proposed Senate amendments would offer almost $2.8 billion to buy “zero-emission” delivery vehicles, plus an additional $3.7 billion for related infrastructure.

Environmental groups pushing for reductions in U.S. greenhouse gas emissions denounced the agency’s move, with the Natural Resources Defense Council saying it ignores a wealth of evidence that transitioning the fleet would save money while also cutting pollution and protecting public health.

“Neither rain, nor sleet, nor financial good sense will stop the leaders of the U.S. Postal Service from trying to buy dirty, polluting delivery trucks,” NRDC transportation analyst Patricio Portillo said in a statement that called on Congress and the White House to take action.

President Joe Biden has repeatedly pushed to leverage the massive purchasing power of the federal government to promote the use of electric vehicles. In one of his early climate-related executive orders, Biden called for using clean and zero-emission vehicles in government fleets, including at the Postal Service.

[Harris touts administration’s electric vehicle plans]

Electrifying mail delivery vehicles is widely viewed as particularly low-hanging fruit because many are used on relatively short routes and could be charged at a central location overnight.

But the Postal Service is ultimately an independent agency. DeJoy, a Republican fundraiser, was appointed postmaster general by the USPS Board of Governors, all of whom were nominated by President Donald Trump and confirmed by the then-Republican Senate, in May 2020.

As the Postal Service developed its environmental impact statement for its plan, it received input from environmental groups and the EPA pushing for more aggressive adoption of electric vehicles. The EPA reiterated and expanded on its points after the final statement was issued and called for both a supplemental environmental impact statement and a public hearing.

The EPA questioned the Postal Service’s analysis, including claims that it underestimated greenhouse gas emissions from the new internal combustion engine vehicles.

The EPA also pointed to the new vehicles’ weight rating of 8,501 pounds — one pound over the thresholds for both light-duty vehicle efficiency standards and statutory requirements for federal agency low-emitting vehicles.

In its statement on Wednesday USPS disputed the EPA’s arguments and denied the requests for a supplemental statement or a public hearing, saying they were not necessary or appropriate given the need to replace its aging fleet in a timely and cost-efficient manner.

The decision is expected to face legal challenges from environmental groups who will point to the questions raised about its underlying assumptions.

“DeJoy’s plans for the postal fleet will drag us back decades with a truck model that gets laughable fuel economy. We may as well deliver the mail with hummers,” said Adrian Martinez, senior attorney on Earthjustice’s Right to Zero campaign. “DeJoy’s environmental review is rickety, founded on suspect calculations, and fails to meet the standards of the law. We’re not done fighting this reckless decision.”