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Lawmakers Are Ramping Up Pressure for the Postal Service to Go Electric

Democrats want an investigation and to cancel the Postal Service's vehicle contract unless it purchases more EVs.

Congressional Democrats are not backing down from pushing the U.S. Postal Service to primarily purchase electric vehicles as it overhauls its fleet, despite a defiant stance from the agency’s leadership that says it cannot afford the more expensive trucks and vans. 

Leaders of the House Oversight and Reform Committee and other lawmakers on Monday requested that the USPS inspector general launch an investigation into the mailing agency’s decision to move forward with purchasing a new fleet composed almost entirely of internal combustion engine vehicles. The Biden administration, through both the White House and the Environmental Protection Agency, had pushed USPS to buy a higher rate of EVs than its planned 10%, saying the postal leadership was failing to comply with its obligations under the National Environmental Policy Act and other federal regulations. 

After postal management rejected the administration’s call to further study the impact of its planned purchases, oversight Chairwoman Rep. Carolyn Maloney, D-N.Y., others on the panel, and Rep. Jared Huffman, D-Calif., who sits on environmental, transportation and climate committees, asked the IG to review whether USPS met its obligations, relied on faulty assumptions, failed to adequately disclose information or engaged in improper contracting practices. 

“The EPA, the White House Council for Environmental Quality, and numerous environmental stakeholders have raised concerns that the Postal Service did not meet its NEPA obligations during its contracting process for the [next generation delivery vehicles],” the lawmakers wrote. “These significant concerns warrant an investigation by the OIG.”

They added they “strongly support” USPS purchasing more EVs, saying it would significantly reduce emissions and position the mailing agency as an environmental leader. The IG did not respond to a request for comment.

USPS last year selected Oshkosh Defense to manufacture at least 50,000 vehicles to modernize its fleet as part of a contract potentially worth billions of dollars. Postal officials have said that the 10% of the 165,000 vehicles it ultimately 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.

Last week, 69 House Democrats, led by Rep. Gerry Connolly, D-Va., put forward the 2022 Green Postal Service Fleet Act (H.R. 7018) to block the Oshkosh contract unless at least 75% of the vehicles delivered are electric. 

“Finalization of this contract is yet another willfully shortsighted decision by Postmaster General Louis DeJoy that will prevent the Postal Service from reaching its full 21st Century potential,” said Connolly, who chairs the House panel with oversight of the Postal Service. 

Last year, some of the same lawmakers introduced a bill to require USPS to electrify at least 75% of its new vehicles, but only if appropriations were provided. After failing to convince postal leadership to change course with a letter of their own last month, Senate Democrats last week sought to include amendments on a sweeping postal reform bill to require a higher EV purchasing rate. Senate leadership ultimately opted not to vote on the amendments so the underlying bill could pass with bipartisan support. 

The Biden administration called on the Postal Service to craft a new environmental impact study and to hold a public hearing about its plan, but postal officials last month announced they would not meet those requests.

“The process needs to keep moving forward,” said 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.”

A group of 10 Republican senators, led by Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, meanwhile wrote a letter to Biden this week asking him explicitly not to push USPS to procure more EVs. Such vehicles rely on raw materials from China, they said, whereas regular engine trucks and vans can run on fuels produced within the United States. 

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 has for years been straddled with debt in large part due to missed statutorily required payments to its fund health care benefits for future retirees, but Congress this month passed a bipartisan bill that erased much of those negative balances.

“In flagrant contradiction to President Biden’s admirable and ambitious goal to electrify the federal fleet, USPS has tethered itself to a technology that is well on its way to obsolescence—striking a devastating blow to our climate, to our effort to lead the world in green technology, and to our beloved Postal Service,” Connolly said. “This contract cannot move forward.”

This story has been updated with additional congressional requests