Biden White House, Dems and Enviros Cry Foul on USPS $11.3 Billion Gas-guzzling Truck Contract

A fleet of US postal service vehicles parked in a line.

by Annette McGee Rasch

Republicans and their fossil-fuel industry cohorts have banded together for decades in a concerted effort to cripple the large-scale emergence of the electric vehicle (EV) industry and they’re uncomfortably close to another big win. It’s a sordid tale of lost opportunity – and a slap in the face for the Biden Administration’s stated goal to slash planet-heating gases and move to an all-electric government fleet.

The US Postal Service (USPS) vehicle fleet is aging and long overdue for an upgrade. They showed true leadership when they began converting to electric back in 2006,  but those plans have been continually thwarted by dirty politics. And while the general public is largely unaware, the Biden Administration, Democratic lawmakers and environmental groups are furious over the USPS’s plan for a new fleet of gas-guzzling mail delivery trucks.

Postmaster General Louis DeJoy is openly defying Biden by awarding an initial $6 billion contract to Oshkosh Defense, a Wisconsin firm that primarily produces diesel military vehicles. Biden signed an executive order last year mandating all light-duty vehicles acquired by the federal government be 100% electric by 2027. The Postal Service operates a third of the federal government fleet.

Out of the 165,000-vehicle procurement with Oshkosh that could run to $11.3 billion, only 5,000 vehicles would be EV’s. This means 90% of the fleet would contribute to pollution and emissions for decades to come. “The current plan prevents reduction in the carbon footprint of one of the largest government fleets in the world,” say Democratic legislators.

“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, a senior attorney at Earthjustice. 

Nor does DeJoy’s plan pass muster with the EPA. The environmental impact analysis is flawed, EPA says, because it relies on incomplete or inaccurate data. It doesn’t account for the fact that prices for batteries and EV infrastructure are and will continue to drop  … AND it violates the National Environmental Policy Act.

Postal trucks are perfect for electrification: they travel predictable, low-speed routes, logging in an average of 20 miles per day; and returning to the same facilities at the end of each work shift,  Also, while manufacturing costs are currently a little higher than gas-powered trucks, EV’s are far more cost-effective to run – and as more EV’s are produced, initial costs will come down.


A new fleet of 160,000 gas & diesel postal trucks hitting the road over the next decade would be – archaic!!

If USPS led with an all-electric fleet, that would push UPS, Fed Ex, and Amazon to pick up the pace. Industry experts say private EV sales would skyrocket, especially with convenient charging stations.

Clearly, preventing the USPS from transitioning away from fossil fuels has a negative and far-reaching impact on the effort to address climate change in America! 

DeJoy, Trump’s pick to head the Post Office, doesn’t care.  His goal is to privatize the Postal Service.  His plan has been to slow the mail down and increase prices to the point where Americans are all for privatization. 

History Lesson

Until DeJoy took over, the Postal Service led on environmental initiatives. In 1999, it opened the world’s first “green” post office in Texas, based on energy efficiency and built from recycled materials. It was an early adopter of electric vehicles, renewable energy and energy management systems, and piloted e-waste recycling drop-offs. In 2009, it built a 2 1/2 acre green roof on top of its NYC distribution center, one of biggest in the country.  

In 2006, USPS had a substantial fiscal surplus. In that year’s Annual Report, it outlined plans for a 21st century fleet of EV postal trucks. 

Naturally the fossil fuel industry (Koch Bros, ALEC) and most Republicans freaked out – and proceeded to derail the plan with a brilliant one of their own.  They rammed a Bill through Congress that effectively sucked up the agency’s surplus.

The new law required USPS to pre-fund a Retiree Health Benefits Fund for the next 75 years! They forced the agency to set aside $5 billion a year for future retirees, some who weren’t even born yet! This scheme (an obligation that no other private business or government agency has ever had) killed the USPS plan for a fleet of EV’s.

Now, 16 years later, the USPS has somehow nearly recovered from that contrived financial burden, prompting forces within the agency to try and get the EV plan back on track. But not so fast – with DeJoy at the helm, more climate-killing shenanigans are guaranteed.

Democrats have been calling for DeJoy’s resignation since Trump put him at the helm – why is he still there? It’s a predictable story. Biden can’t fire DeJoy directly – it has to be done by the USPS board, which Trump  stacked with Republicans. That will finally change when Biden’s nominee is confirmed to head the Postal Board of Governors. Right now, Republican senators are preventing that confirmation.

This leaves DeJoy with the power to sign a contract for all those gas and diesel vehicles. Democrats are trying to pass legislation to prevent this and to remove the prefunding retirement requirement. 

Potentially, there’s a light at the end of this smog-filled tunnel. The Union of Concerned Scientists, NRDC, Earthjustice, Sierra Club and others are imploring Biden to use a little-known procedure that would enable the White House Council on Environmental Quality to settle interagency disputes. But will Biden take a hard stand and do this? If not, environmental groups may take legal action. 

Will common sense finally prevail and breathe life into our endlessly frustrating desire to get something positive  done for a change? 

Read this: Imagining a green, sustainable US Postal Service

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Annette McGee Rasch manages our Green Dream Jobs service. She’s also a free lance writer, dog trainer, animal advocate, grassroots organizer, nature lover, science nerd and musician. She lives in Southern Oregon.

 

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