House panel to question USPS over plan to buy gas-guzzling trucks

Postmaster General Louis Dejoy placed an order for the first 50,000 NGDVs on March 24. 20 percent of that purchase was for electric vehicles.

The Postal Service plan falls short of White House goals to transition the entire federal civilian fleet to electric vehicles by 2035. The Postal Agency’s 217,000 vehicles make up the largest share of government civilian vehicles.

Transportation is the single largest source of greenhouse gas emissions in the United States, and even the increased sales of electric vehicles—which account for about 5 percent of new car sales—have not made a significant impact on the auto market. Proponents of electric cars had hoped that the purchase of the postal service would provide a boost to the industry.

Private fleets have bypassed the federal government in electricity in recent years, and the White House and electric vehicle backers argue that a green postal fleet would spur manufacturers to build the infrastructure for more electric cars and charging stations they need nationwide.

Victoria Stephen, chair of the Postal Service’s NGDV program, will testify before the commission, commission chairwoman Carolyn B. Maloney (DNY) on Thursday, as well as Postal Services Inspector General Tammy Whitcomb.

Whitcomb’s office released a report earlier this month that found electric vehicles would be well suited for mail delivery duties and would save the beleaguered agency financially in the long run.

“It is critical to our environment and our future that the Postal Service rapidly transforms into an electric fleet,” Maloney said in a statement. “The federal government should lead the way, not fall behind private companies that are already moving forward to save money and reduce climate change by electrifying their fleets.”

Key Democrats on the committee, including Representatives Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (New York) and Gerald E. Connolly (Virginia), have previously lobbied federal officials about late plans to electrify federal cars.

Senate Liberals responded Thursday to DeJoy’s initial truck order, urging the Postal Chief to “significantly increase the proportion of electric vehicles” to purchase the Postal Service. Nineteen Democrats in the upper chamber, led by Senators Jeff Merkley (Urey) and Thomas R. Carper (Dell), demanded that the agency provide records of its analyzes of its electric vehicle and detailed accounting information on its transactions with Oshkosh.

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“The USPS represents nearly a third of the federal fleet, and actions taken by the USPS will have a significant impact on whether the United States does its part in the fight against climate chaos,” the senators wrote. “While investing in at least 20 percent of electric postal vehicles is an improvement, the USPS must do more. Not only is the USPS’s current plan to invest in vehicles powered mostly by fossil fuels, it puts public health and the environment at risk, but The decision is also being made at a time when companies such as Federal Express (FedEx) and United Parcel Service (UPS) are increasingly turning to electric vehicles for economic reasons.”

Amazon has bought 100,000 electric trucks, aiming to make half of its shipments carbon-neutral by 2030. It also owns about 20 percent of electric truck manufacturer Rivian. (Amazon founder Jeff Bezos owns The Washington Post.)

FedEx and UPS have also made electric vehicles a small but steadily growing part of their fleets. As of 2019, nearly 10 percent of the FedEx fleet was running on battery power.

But Postal leaders stress that the largely electric fleet will be prohibitively expensive, citing the high initial cost of electric vehicles and associated infrastructure. According to the Postal Service Environmental Impact Statement for NGDVs, gas-powered vehicles will be more cost-efficient over a 20-year life expectancy. Independent auto and environmental experts said the agency’s numbers are inaccurate, and that the Postal Service will save money in the long run on lower fuel and maintenance costs even if electric vehicles have higher initial costs.

The Inspector General’s report supported those arguments. “Electric vehicles in general are more mechanically reliable than gas-powered vehicles and will require less maintenance,” the report said. “Energy costs will be lower for electric cars, because using electricity to power an electric car is cheaper than using gasoline.”

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The NGDVs are hardly an environmental improvement over the agency’s LLVs. With the air conditioning turned on, they get 8.6 mpg, which is 0.4 mpg higher than current vehicles. Experts say the industry standard for today’s gasoline-powered delivery vehicles is 12 to 14 mpg.

The agency said electric vehicles will provide 70 miles per charge, numbers that auto experts and government regulators claim greatly underestimate their capacity.

When Oshkosh awarded the truck contract in February 2021, the Postal Service said the company could convert gas-powered vehicles to run on batteries as the agency’s financial position improved and electric vehicle technology improved. But postal officials said they had “no plans” to modify any of the vehicles.

The Environmental Protection Agency projects that the greenhouse emissions from new gas-powered trucks of the Postal Service will be approximately 20 million metric tons over the vehicle’s life expectancy of 20 years, which is roughly equivalent to the annual emissions from 4.3 million passenger vehicles.

In an interview with The Post, DeJoy said he’s not against buying more electric trucks, but that the funding should come from Congress, and only from Postal Service accounts if the agency’s financial health improves. He said he was focused on replacing the agency’s failing fleet, not electrifying its own.

“From my point of view, my job is to deliver mail and parcels,” he said. “The policy of electrifying the nation’s fleet is a mission which I will support. But I will be negligent in spending all my money on doing so.”

The electric vehicles the Postal Service ordered on its first order from Oshkosh, of 1,019, corresponded to 1,019 Postal Routes that DeJoy said he knew were a “knockout” for trucks.

“This is how I make decisions as we move forward,” he said. “When I go to buy the next amount, we will re-evaluate it.”

Policy makers on both sides of the aisle agree that the Postal Agency’s “long life vehicles” are unsafe and in urgent need of replacement. LLVs are 30 years old and have no airbags or conditioning. They have been known to catch fire from years of overuse.

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It is also invalid for the variable operation of the mail service. DeJoy has positioned the agency to compete more aggressively for package shipping with competitors such as UPS, FedEx and Amazon. LLVs are too small to handle the epidemic influx of postal parcels. And as the agency’s mail business has fallen 45 percent since 2008, its parcel business has more than doubled. NGDVs have much more cargo space to carry packages.

Congressional designers are divided over how — or whether — to fund the new postal fleet. The Postal Agency has nearly $24 billion in cash after lawmakers in 2020 approved a $10 billion emergency grant to tackle pandemics. Congress in March voted to reform the agency’s finances, relieving it of $107 billion in past dues and future payments.

Republicans, loath to agree to spending on President Biden’s climate goals, said DeJoy should squeeze his mainly gas-powered fleet. Democrats appear divided between allowing more money for NGDV electric vehicles and battery charging stations, and encouraging the Postal Service to spend the money it already has.

The Biden administration’s original “Build Back Better” social spending package contained $6 billion for electric mail trucks and battery chargers. Biden’s 2023 budget proposal includes $300 million for electric mail vehicles and charging stations.

“The Postal Service has nearly a quarter of a million vehicles today, and all of those vehicles are dependent on the infrastructure that is currently in place, which is to have gas and diesel cars,” Kahn said. “If we buy 10,000 electric cars and put them in Montana or some rural part of the country, there may not be grid electrification to support those vehicles.”

“The biggest pitfall in any long-term purchase is rushing too quickly and moving forward with your organization’s ability to absorb technology,” Tangherlini added. “So what I would like to understand is how does the Postal Service plan to accommodate a change in this technology?”

Anna Phillips contributed to this report.

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