The U.S. Postal Service pledged Wednesday to electrify at least 40 percent of its new delivery fleet, an increase that climate activists hailed as a major step toward reducing the government’s environmental footprint.
The announcement comes after 16 states, the District of Columbia, and four of the nation’s top environmental groups sued the mail agency in the spring to prevent the original purchase plan, or compel it to buy more electric trucks. Activists at a minimum want the Postal Service’s fleet to consist of at least 75 percent EVs, though the agency’s Office of Inspector General found that 95 percent of delivery routes are suitable for electrification.
The mail agency’s combined purchase of 84,500 trucks — which begin hitting the streets in late 2023 — will go a long way toward meeting President Biden’s goal for the entire government fleet to be EV-powered by 2035. The Postal Service’s more than 217,000 vehicles make up the largest share of federal civilian vehicles.
With record heat waves covering broad swaths of the United States and Europe, Biden traveled to Massachusetts on Wednesday to issue an ultimatum to lawmakers: Take action on the globe’s worsening climate, or he will. The president appears poised in the coming weeks to declare a national climate emergency, a move that would grant him sweeping new authority to tackle rising temperatures.
Government regulators and environmental activists took issue with the number of gas-powered trucks in the original purchase plan. Oshkosh’s internal-combustion-engine model gets 8.6 mpg with the air conditioning running. That’s less than 0.5 mpg of fuel efficiency better than the decades-old trucks they’re poised to replace.
Regulators estimated that 150,000 of the Oshkosh gas-powered trucks would emit roughly the same amount of Earth-warming carbon dioxide each year as 4.3 million passenger vehicles. White House officials said such emissions could pose permanent ecological damage.
“I think the pressure from environmental justice groups, labor unions, it’s working,” Adrian Martinez, an attorney for Earthjustice, one of the activist groups bringing suit, told The Washington Post. “There’s still some more work that needs to be done, but the initial attitude that we got when we first met is shifting.”
“I am very willing to let them grow and change,” said Porter McConnell, campaign director of the consumer rights group Take on Wall Street and co-founder of the Save the Post Office Coalition.
Postmaster General Louis DeJoy, long a foil of the Biden administration and congressional Democrats, said in June that he would reorganize certain agency operations to improve efficiency and accommodate more EVs. The Postal Service is in 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 EV investments in approving the legislation.
“The one thing that has changed is their fiscal condition is much improved,” Rep. Jared Huffman (D-Calif.), the lead sponsor of legislation for electric postal fleet funding, said in an interview. “To be charitable, that could be some part of the explanation. But the truth is, you don’t need billions of dollars from Congress to do the smart thing.”
“Electric vehicles are the future of the automotive industry and that is why I have been pressing the Postal Service to purchase more of them as they continue to add more Next Generation Delivery Vehicles and other vehicles to their fleet,” said Sen. Gary Peters (D-Mich.), who chairs the Senate committee charged with handling postal issues.
Agency 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.
That appears to be what DeJoy decided, two of those people told The Post, as the agency conducted subsequent rounds of environmental and cost analyses for the new fleet. The people spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss agency strategy and said that Wednesday’s decision was enabled in part by DeJoy’s overhaul of the agency’s mail-sorting network.
“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 [electric vehicle] options in the future,” the agency said in a statement announcing the new purchasing plan.
The Oshkosh contract, struck in February 2021, was widely criticized from the start. The defense contractor had never made electric vehicles and told investors that the EV market represented a weak point in its capabilities.
The House Oversight and Reform Committee in May opened an investigation into the deal after Chair Carolyn B. Maloney (D-N.Y.) said the agency “needs to go back to the drawing board” on the purchase plan that was projected to cost $11.3 billion.
“Our Postal Service fleet of the future must be clean, affordable and electric,” Maloney said in a statement Wednesday. “This is the fleet that the American people deserve. I am pleased by this progress, but I will continue to fight for the Postal Service fleet to fully transition to electric vehicles.”
“Investing in an outdated technology never made sense, and I am glad the Postmaster General is belatedly coming to that common-sense realization,” added Rep. Gerald E. Connolly (D-Va.), who chairs the subcommittee in charge of postal policy. “We still have more work to do, and Congress will continue to help push the USPS to a modern, green fleet.”