The trucks in the pending first new United States Postal Service vehicle fleet in 30 years haven’t been driven. But they continue to be stuck before they start and the problem appears worse.
The problem, percolating for months, now could include an investigation into a decision by Postmaster General Louis DeJoy to purchase up to 165,000 gasoline-powered mail trucks over the Biden administration’s objections.
In a letter to Inspector General Tammy Whitcomb, lawmakers called for an investigation. They’re questioning whether the Postal Service had complied with a law requiring environmental reviews of major federal actions.
Further, the lawmakers believe the multibillion-dollar contract would undermine the nation’s climate goals.
The contract, worth up to $6 billion over 10 years, would be the first new USPS trucks purchased in three decades.
Both the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the White House Council on Environmental Quality have said the Postal Service made the wrong decision to buy gasoline-powered trucks based on a flawed environmental analysis.
According to a report in The New York Times, the Postal Service estimated the new vehicles would get 29.9 miles per gallon. A separate analysis by the EPA found the vehicles could achieve less than half that—14.7 miles per gallon. With the air-conditioning running, the new trucks would only get 8.6 miles per gallon, the EPA said.
The agency reported the review did not consider any feasible alternatives to gas-powered vehicles and that the USPS issued a contract for the vehicles before even completing its flawed review.
The Times further reported that Carolyn Maloney, the chairwoman of the House Committee on Oversight and Reform, and other Democrats on the panel asked Ms. Whitcomb to determine if the Postal Service made “inaccurate or unproven assumptions” about the environmental impact of combustion engine vehicles, including underestimating their greenhouse gas emissions.
“Postal vehicles serve a public purpose—helping to deliver the mail six days a week across the United States—and must do so in an environmentally sound manner,” the lawmakers wrote.
President Biden has ordered all federal agencies to phase out the purchase of gasoline-powered vehicles and buy only zero-emissions cars and trucks by 2035 as part of his agenda to speed the transition away from fossil fuels and tackle climate change. The USPS is an independent agency not bound by the administration’s climate rules.
The Postal Service owns more than 231,000 vehicles, one of the largest civilian fleets in the world. The distinctive white, red and blue trucks roam the country from congested cities to quiet rural towns.
An all-electric fleet would not only deliver environmental benefits and help an emerging manufacturing sector, but also serve as a powerful symbol of an administration that is determined to speed the transition away from fossil fuels.
The Postal Service said it can’t afford an all-electric fleet and that 10 percent of the new trucks would be electric while 90 percent would be gasoline-powered.
Sue Brennan, a spokeswoman for the Postal Service, said in a statement the agency is committed to electrifying its fleet and said it will “continue to pursue the acquisition” of additional electric vehicles as its financial position improves.
The Build Back Better Act, Mr. Biden’s centerpiece legislative agenda, includes about $6 billion to help the Postal Service pay for electric vehicles and charging stations. That bill is stalled in Congress.
Environmental groups and other government agencies have called the Postal Service’s decision flawed, saying it relies on unrealistic assumptions—like gasoline at $2.19 a gallon. That’s well below the $4.33 average gas price Americans are currently paying in the wake of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, but it is also far lower than the average pump price before the war.
Congress earlier this month approved a $107 billion financial overhaul of the Postal Service, and it currently is awaiting Mr. Biden’s signature. Neither the House nor Senate version, both of which passed with broad bipartisan support, included amendments that would force a change in the agency’s truck contract.
James Raia, a syndicated columnist in Sacramento, California, publishes a free weekly automotive podcast and electronic newsletter. Sign-ups are available on his website, www.theweeklydriver.com. He can be reached via email: email@example.com.