By Rachel Koning Beals
'Neither rain, nor sleet, nor financial good sense will stop the leaders of the U.S. Postal Service from trying to buy dirty, polluting delivery trucks,' says the Natural Resources Defense Council
The U.S. Postal Service has been cleared to buy its next-generation mail vehicles -- but the plan is at odds with the broader push of a climate-minded Biden administration, because only 10% of the fleet update will include electric vehicles.
The USPS's fleet extends to more than 230,000 vehicles, including 190,000 for local deliveries that are due to be replaced.
The Postal Service generates its own revenue and does not receive direct taxpayer money for operations, although weak finances stretched by pension obligations have been subjected to bailout considerations. Declines in postage-metered mailings in today's digital world have pushed the service to court package deliveries in order to compete with FedEx (FDX) and UPS (UPS), including a major deal with Amazon.com (AMZN) before the retailer stepped up more deliveries with its own fleet. And Amazon's fleet is also converting to green energy with an investment in Rivian (RIVN).
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The USPS's decision to proceed with this plan, published in the Federal Register, allows the service to place the first order, which will include at least 5,000 electric-powered vehicles, along with an undetermined number of gas-powered vehicles, Postal Service spokesperson Kim Frum told the Associated Press. The order is with Wisconsin-based Oshkosh Defense(OSK).
Future EV plans at USPS could come from federal funding, however. It would cost an extra $3.3 billion to convert the entire Postal Service fleet to EVs. Some funding is included in Biden's Build Back Better plan, but that bill remains stalled in Congress.
The Biden administration had already announced the conversion of federal vehicles to EVs, alongside a revamped way for the government to buy electricity. And the president urged all agencies to review energy efficiency and other steps as he tries to steer the nation toward a 50% reduction in Earth-warming carbon emissions by 2030. Biden, who ran on climate change efforts, had named several climate-specific advisers to an administration that wants a powerful role in the globe's conversion to renewable energy, but often lags other leading economies on this front.
The USPS had been reminded of what the president hoped to achieve, an administration official said during a recent call on another climate initiative, but the service was able to operate independently on this vehicle order.
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"As we have reiterated throughout this process, our commitment to an electric fleet remains ambitious given the pressing vehicle and safety needs of our aging fleet as well as our fragile financial condition," Postmaster General and USPS Chief Executive Officer Louis DeJoy said in a statement. DeJoy, a Trump ally, made headlines during the last administration, as well, fielding criticism for delivery delays, the removal of drop boxes right around election time, and insistence by the former president that the service was a "joke."
"As our financial position improves with the ongoing implementation of our 10-year plan, Delivering for America, we will continue to pursue the acquisition of additional [electric vehicles] as additional funding -- from either internal or congressional sources -- becomes available," DeJoy said. "The men and women of the U.S. Postal Service have waited long enough for safer, cleaner vehicles to fulfill on our universal service obligation to deliver to 161 million addresses in all climates and topographies six days per week."
Environmental groups weren't entirely convinced.
"The Biden administration, Congress, environmental and public health groups, and air regulators have made it clear that electrifying the Postal Service must be a top priority for climate and public health. Refusing to hold a public hearing on such a flawed and controversial plan speaks volumes about the ill intentions of Postmaster Louis DeJoy," charged Katherine García, Sierra Club's director of its Clean Transportation for All program.
"There should be no reason this plan is moving forward in 2022," she said.
Added Patricio Portillo of the Natural Resources Defense Council: "Neither rain, nor sleet, nor financial good sense will stop the leaders of the U.S. Postal Service from trying to buy dirty, polluting delivery trucks."
The Postal Service moved ahead despite a request by the Environmental Protection Agency and the White House Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) to conduct another review that looks at long-term costs.
Perhaps broader EV adoption reflects the go-slow approach of the USPS conversion.
Market tracker LMC Automotive expects EVs to make up 34.2% of new U.S. vehicle sales by 2030, with all-electric at 30.1% and plug-in gas/electric hybrids at 4.1%. Sales of electric vehicles, including plug-in hybrids, were only about 4% of total U.S. vehicle sales in 2021. Still, that marked a doubling of growth from just a year earlier.
USPS said the new vehicles are more efficient than the old, and include temperature control, air bags, backup cameras and collision avoidance.
The vehicles are also taller, to make it easier for postal carriers to grab packages. Parcels -- instead of letters and bills -- were making up a far greater portion of deliveries even before the pandemic, government data shows.
The Associated Press contributed.
-Rachel Koning Beals
(END) Dow Jones Newswires
February 23, 2022 15:03 ET (20:03 GMT)
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