If you’re not totally sold on the United States Postal Service’s new, flattened duck-shaped, gas-powered monstrosity of a mail truck, you’re not alone. The Biden administration on Wednesday made a last-minute plea to halt the USPS’ fleet, claiming the new trucks’ laughably poor fuel efficiency would further worsen the climate and hinder the government’s ability to lead on carbon-neutral transportation efforts.
In a pair of letters first reported on by The Washington Post, The Environmental Protection Agency and The White House Council on Environmental Quality urged The Postal Service to re-evaluate its decision to buy mostly gas-powered vehicles. A failure to electrify these vehicles threatens to uproot President Biden’s pledge to phase out gas-burning vehicles in federal agencies and purchase 100% zero-emission vehicles for the federal fleet by 2035.
For context, the USPS conducted an environmental impact statement last year where it weighed several different possibilities around adding electric vehicles to the new fleet but ultimately decided on a 90/10% split of gas and electric-powered vehicles.
Those new gas-powered vehicles weren’t exactly hyper-efficient though. According to the Post, those supposed upgrades would only offer a .4-mile-per-gallon fuel economy improvement over the current 30-year-old fleet. With air conditioning on, these new clunkers would reportedly average around 14 km per gallon. That’s worse than an original Hummer H1. The cost was sighted as the USPS’s main reason for opting to go the mostly gas route.
Regardless, the USPS announced it had struck a deal with Wisconsin-based defence contractor Oshkosh last February, which would see the agency spend around $US11.3 ($16) billion on up to 165,000 new vehicles over the next decade, with a $US482 ($669) million initial investment.
Now, however, the EPA in its letter said its environmental concerns “were not adequately addressed,” and that the USPS’s final environmental impact statement, “remains seriously deficient.” Writing more broadly, Vicki Arroyo, the EPA’s Associate Administrator for Policy, warned the switch to majority gas-operated vehicles could hinder the U.S. government’s attempts to transition its vehicles away from fossil fuels.
“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,” Arroyo wrote. “A ten-per cent commitment to clean vehicles, with virtually no fuel efficiency gains for the other 90 per cent is plainly inconsistent with international, national, and many state GHG emissions reduction targets, as well as specific national policies to move with deliberate speed toward clean, zero-emitting vehicles.”
The letter went on to criticise the USPS’s methods for determining the cost of an electrification effort and the feasibility of operating a mostly electric fleet. In a statement to the Post following the letter, a spokesperson for the USPS stuck to its guns and said it simply could not afford the investment necessary to fully electrify its vehicles.
“While we can understand why some who are not responsible for the financial sustainability of the Postal Service might prefer that the Postal Service acquire more electric vehicles, the law requires the Postal Service to be self-sufficient,” the spokesperson said.
The letters sparked renewed criticism of USPS Postmaster General Louis DeJoy who signed off on the new vehicles. Late Wednesday, Virginia House Representative Gerald Connolly, a Democrat in charge of the House subcommittee overseeing the United States Postal Service, called for DeJoy’s resignation, claiming he was mucking up the Biden administration’s climate agenda.
“This is directly counter to the goals both Congress and the president has set to have an emissions-free federal fleet,” Connolly told The New York Times. “I would love for him [DeJoy] to resign and if he won’t resign, I want the board of governors to fire him.”
Connolly went on to call for an oversight hearing to reexamine the USPS’ contract with Oshkosh. As an alternative, Connolly told the Times he would support an amendment that would scrap the government’s contract with Oshkosh or one that compels the USPS to purchase electric vehicles.