The Postal Service Has Rejected Biden's Push for More Electric Vehicles
The agency's decision to stick with its original plan marks "a crucial lost opportunity," the Biden administration says.
The U.S. Postal Service is moving forward with its plan to replace the vast majority of its fleet with non-electric vehicles, defying the Biden administration and rejecting its request that USPS slow down its upcoming multi-billion dollar spending spree.
The mailing agency will continue on its current course to replace 90% of its fleet with internal combustion engine vehicles and just 10% with EVs, postal officials said on Wednesday. Management finalized its plan after releasing its “record of decision,” which rebutted complaints lodged earlier this month by the Environmental Protection Agency and the White House’s Council on Environmental Quality. In rejecting the Biden team's arguments, USPS said the administration’s suggestions to further consider options and impacts would not yield better information or change the agency’s decisions.
Postal officials also stressed on Tuesday that 10% of the 165,000 vehicles it plans to buy is the minimum number of EVs it will procure, as the final total could vary based on costs coming down or Congress providing USPS with additional funds. In separate letters earlier this month, EPA and CEQ said the Postal Service's award process—USPS last year selected Oshkosh Defense to manufacture at least 50,000 vehicles to modernize its fleet—has violated the National Environmental Policy Act and CEQ regulations.
Administration officials on Tuesday continued their criticism of the Postal Service’s path. Vicki Arroyo, EPA’s associate administrator for policy, called USPS’ environmental analysis “fundamentally flawed” and said the agency failed to consider all relevant factors.
“The Postal Service’s current course represents a crucial lost opportunity to be a leader in reducing the carbon footprint of one of the largest government fleets in the world,” Arroyo said. “Purchasing tens of thousands of gasoline-fueled delivery trucks locks USPS into further oil dependence, air pollution and climate impacts for decades to come, and harms the long-term prospects of our nation’s vital mail provider.”
Brenda Mallory, chair of the White House’s CEQ, called USPS’ approach “out of touch.”
“The EPA identified major concerns with the environmental review for this contract, and the Postal Service should have corrected flaws with its approach before moving forward,” Mallory said.
In making assessments, administration officials previously said the Postal Service withheld important data, declined to detail its economic and other assumptions, and did not disclose specifics of the contract. Postal management also underestimated the greenhouse gas emissions of the new fleet and the cost of mostly gas-powered vehicles, failed to consider all alternative options and neglected the environmental impact on local communities.
The Biden administration had called on the Postal Service to craft a new impact study and to hold a public hearing about its plan, but postal officials on Tuesday announced they would not meet those requests.
“The process needs to keep moving forward,” said Postmaster General Louis DeJoy, who added USPS would seek to acquire more EVs as internal or external funding sources become available. “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.”
Some issues raised by administration officials, USPS said in its record of decision, were previously addressed when the concerns were first flagged last summer.
“That EPA disagrees with the Postal Service’s conclusions does not change the fact that the Postal Service’s analyses and assumptions are reasonable, based on credible sources, and reflect the Postal Service’s superior expertise and extensive experience in the field of postal logistics and procurement,” USPS said.
EPA and CEQ brought up some new concerns, the Postal Service added, but addressing them would not move the needle.
“The additional analyses and mitigation recommendations by EPA would not produce superior information that would significantly alter the relative costs and benefits among the [final environmental impact statement’s] alternatives, when considered in the context of the requirements necessary to safely and efficiently deliver the nation’s mail,” USPS said.
Administration officials said, for example, that USPS did not consider a sufficient number of alternative scenarios rather than the 90%-10% ICE-EV split. Postal officials said they did consider reasonable alternatives and the other options did not present the same operational or ergonomic advantages as the planned vehicles.
EPA criticized the Postal Service for acquiring new vehicles that would bring its fuel economy up from 8.2 miles per gallon to just 8.6, but USPS said EPA was not making an apples-to-apples comparison. Current postal vehicles do not have air conditioning, and the 8.6 number is the expected fuel efficiency when the cool air is running in the new trucks. With the air conditioning off, the vehicles will get 14.7 miles per gallon. The new vehicles will also have more cargo space and require fewer trips, USPS added.
“Despite EPA’s mischaracterization,” said Mark Guilfoil, USPS’ vice president for supply management, the new vehicles are “significantly more fuel efficient.”
The Biden administration accused EPA of underestimating gas costs by using outdated prices, but the Postal Service said the difference would be negligible relative to the added expense of purchasing more EVs. While the Postal Service conceded an all-EV fleet would lead to a 200% drop in emissions, it rejected the administration’s call to use different assumptions to address potential undercounting. The White House and EPA accused USPS of predetermining its goals for the contract, but postal officials said the outcomes remain flexible.
The White House and congressional Democrats have both proposed providing $6 billion for USPS to electrify its fleet, though the vehicle for that funding—the Build Back Better Act—remains in limbo. Biden has called on the entire federal government to switch to electric vehicles over the coming decades. Postal management has warned for a decade about its low cash-on-hand, though that total has skyrocketed in the last two years and sat at $23 billion at the end of 2021. USPS is straddled with debt in large part due to missed statutorily required payments to its fund health care benefits for future retirees, but Congress is planning to pass a bipartisan bill in the coming weeks that would erase much of those negative balances.
Both the White House and EPA declined to spell out what next steps they could or would take to influence the Postal Service’s fleet overhaul, but CEQ’s Mallory said USPS should tap into its “significant cash reserves” while the administration continues to push for extra funding.