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Biden administration wants USPS to rethink gas-powered mail truck purchases

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Under current plans, just 10 percent of new fleet would be electric

The new USPS mail truck, announced last year, can be ordered with either gasoline or electric drivetrains.
Image: USPS

The United States Postal Service has been urged to reevaluate its plans to spend billions on a new fleet of gas-powered delivery trucks, the Washington Post reports. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and White House Council on Environmental Quality sent letters to the USPS this week, asking it to reconsider plans that could see just 10 percent of its up to 165,000 new vehicles powered by electricity rather than gasoline.

“The Postal Service’s proposal as currently crafted represents a crucial lost opportunity to more rapidly reduce the carbon footprint of one of the largest government fleets in the world,” wrote the EPA’s associate administrator for policy, Vicki Arroyo. The USPS announced its plan last February to purchase the new vehicles from Wisconsin-based defense contractor Oshkosh with both gasoline and electric drivetrains. The deal could see it spending up to $11.3 billion on new trucks over the next decade.

When asked why more of the fleet wasn’t electric, Postmaster General Louis DeJoy previously said that the agency couldn’t afford it. The USPS is currently $206.4 billion in debt, according to the Washington Post, although an upcoming vote in the House could relieve much of it. In a statement to WaPo, the USPS said that it wouldn’t be financially sustainable to acquire more electric vehicles. “The law requires the Postal Service to be self-sufficient,” a spokesperson said.

The EPA has criticized the USPS for several assumptions it made when making its decision about the new fleet, saying it “presents biased cost and emission estimates.” In particular the analysis appears to underestimate how the country’s nascent charging infrastructure may improve in the future, overestimates the emissions from plug-in vehicles, and assumes that gasoline and battery prices will remain at the same levels for decades.

There’s widespread agreement that the USPS is in need of new vehicles. It’s current delivery truck, the Grumman Long Life Vehicle, dates back to the 1980s, and lacks modern health and safety features like air-conditioning and air bags. This aging fleet means every year the agency has to spend hundreds of millions of dollars in maintenance, not to mention the fact that its old trucks now pose an increasing fire risk.

But its announcement that around 90 percent of its new vehicles would be gasoline-powered poses a significant barrier to the Biden administration’s plans to electrify the federal government’s entire fleet, of which about a third are USPS delivery trucks. The Washington Post also reports that even the new gas-powered vehicles don’t appear to be particularly fuel-efficient, getting just 8.6 mpg while using air conditioning compared to an industry average of between 12 and 14 mpg for fleet vehicles. Although USPS officials initially indicated these gas-powered trucks could later be converted into electric vehicles, more recently it admitted it has “no plans” to do so.

There have been calls for the EPA to use more stringent measures to force the USPS to change its plans. The warnings letters give the USPS a chance to comply voluntarily.