Feb 25, 2022 - Energy & Environment

U.S. Postal Service flouts Biden's electric vehicle plan

Image of the US Postal Service's next-generation delivery truck, coming soon
The Postal Service's next-generation delivery vehicle. Photo: Courtesy of OshKosh Defense

President Biden's plan to electrify the federal vehicle fleet by 2035 is off to an inauspicious start, with a deal this week by the U.S. Postal Service to buy nearly 150,000 gasoline-powered mail trucks.

Why it matters: The $11.3 billion contract commits the Postal Service to at least another decade without electrifying their fleet, undercutting the nation's climate goals, say Biden administration officials and environmental groups, which tried to block it.

Details: The contract with OshKosh Defense is for up to 165,000 vehicles over the next decade, 90% of which would be conventional gasoline-powered trucks.

  • The initial order includes 5,000 EVs, starting in 2023, with the opportunity to increase the number of EVs later "should additional funding become available," a USPS spokewoman says.
  • Oshkosh says the trucks were designed so that it can produce any mix of electric or gas vehicles USPS wants, including an all-electric fleet.

Yes, but: Opponents say the USPS used a flawed environmental analysis that downplayed the benefits and overestimated the costs of going electric.

Between the lines: The agency estimated, for example, that buying EVs would cost at least $30,000 more per vehicle than the gasoline alternative.

  • The EPA says USPS used "wildly inaccurate gas prices that made owning a gas-powered truck seem comparatively cheap," per the Washington Post.
  • The Postal Service projected gas prices of $2.19 per gallon, rising to $2.55 by 2040, for example. But gas prices were already above $2.80 a gallon when it did the analysis, the EPA said.
  • And with energy prices soaring in light of the new Russia-Ukraine conflict, it's hard to see gas prices falling any time soon.

What they're saying: "It amazes me that on a day when oil topped $100 a barrel, the Postal Service has an analysis assuming gas will be artificially low for decades," Adrian Martinez, a senior attorney for Earthjustice.org, tells Axios.

  • "Beyond the deeply flawed climate and air pollution analysis, the environmental review appears to be analyzing economic conditions like fuel prices, battery prices, and other inputs from a fantasyland, rather than reality."

The other side: Postmaster General and USPS CEO Louis DeJoy says the agency's decision was "fiscally responsible" and that postal workers couldn't wait any longer for safer, modern vehicles.

  • "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," DeJoy said in a statement.
  • As the Postal Service's finances improve, it will consider EVs — if Congress provides additional funding, he said.

What to watch: A legal battle could be next, along with intense scrutiny from Congress, Martinez says.

At least your mail carrier should be happy: The new postal trucks are chock full of improvements like a driver airbag, front and rear automatic braking, better visibility, low step-in heights, a 360-degree camera system, air conditioning, adjustable mail trays and large door openings.

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