House panel will investigate USPS plan to purchase 8.6 mpg trucks

House panel will investigate USPS plan to purchase 8.6 mpg trucks

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A House committee has opened an investigation into the U.S. Postal Service’s $11.3 billion plan to purchase mostly gas-powered mail-delivery trucks, ordering the mail agency to turn over confidential records on their environmental impact and costs.

Rep. Carolyn B. Maloney (D-N.Y.), who chairs the powerful House Oversight and Reform Committee, told Postmaster General Louis DeJoy in a letter sent Wednesday night that his agency may have “relied on flawed assumptions” to justify buying a fleet in which only 1 in 10 of the new vehicles would run on cleaner electric power.

The Postal Service has the largest civilian fleet in the federal government and one of the largest in the world; it is crucial to President Biden’s plan to make the entire government fleet EV-powered by 2035.

The trucks the agency agreed to purchase from Oshkosh Defense in February 2021 fall well short of the White House’s climate goals and could do lasting environmental harm, federal regulators have warned the Postal Service. The agency has closely guarded records and data sources on how it selected the trucks after a competitive seven-year procurement process.

“The Oversight Committee strongly supports the purchase of electric vehicles for the Postal Service’s fleet, which will position the Postal Service as an environmental leader,” Maloney wrote, according to a copy of the letter obtained by The Washington Post. “An all-electric Postal Service fleet would reduce costs, increase reliability, and improve the Postal Service’s ability to efficiently deliver mail and packages. Electrifying the next generation of Postal Service vehicles is also essential to achieving the nation’s goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions and fighting climate change.”

The “Next Generation Delivery Vehicles” get 8.6 mpg with the air conditioning running, a scant 0.4 mpg improvement from the 30-year-old trucks now in use. Regulators estimate the NGDVs would emit roughly the same amount of Earth-warming carbon dioxide each year as 4.3 million passenger vehicles when they hit the streets in 2023.

The Postal Service has largely refused to voluntarily turn over records to lawmakers about the trucks, for which it already has paid nearly $3.5 billion. Maloney’s letter sets the stage for a potential congressional subpoena to the mail agency over the summer, a step that insiders say House Democrats have been itching to take for months.

Attorneys general from 16 states plus the District of Columbia, and three prominent environmental activist groups, filed three separate lawsuits against the Postal Service in April hoping to block the truck contract. The complaints allege that the agency vastly underestimated the vehicles’ costs and adverse ecological impact.

DeJoy said in an interview in March that “the economics that my team has come up with” are sound and support his agency’s purchase plan, and that he supports purchasing more electric vehicles if Congress provides funding or if the Postal Service’s finances improve.

Maloney’s letter sets a May 25 deadline for the mail service to begin producing records. It also asks the agency to redo its cost-of-ownership and environmental analyses for the procurement, develop a purchase plan that draws on its nearly $24 billion in cash to fund EVs, and consult with the Energy Department and the agency’s National Laboratories to facilitate fleet electrification.

In March, the Postal Service ordered its first 50,000 vehicles from Oshkosh, of which 10,019 are electric. Though the EV percentage is higher than DeJoy initially pledged, the tally still rankled liberal lawmakers who had only weeks earlier championed a financial restructuring of the Postal Service with the aim of providing flexibility for it to make large investments.

“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,” Postal Service spokeswoman Kimberly Frum said in an emailed statement. “The men and women of the U.S. Postal Service have waited long enough for safer, cleaner vehicles. We are confident we made the best decision for the Postal Service in our delivery vehicle program considering our delivery profile, unique service requirements, employee welfare, current infrastructure conditions and financial condition while, like the rest of the nation — we begin the long journey of carbon reduction in our transportation operations.”

“We will continue to be resolute in making decisions that are grounded in our financial situation and what we can realistically achieve,” Frum added.

Transportation is the single largest source of greenhouse gas emissions in the United States, but electric vehicles have yet to make significant inroads in consumer markets or delivery fleets. EV proponents had hoped the Postal Service contract would provide a lift for electric automobiles, which account for about 5 percent of all new-vehicle purchases.

Meanwhile, the mail agency’s competitors are quickly ramping up their interest in EVs. Amazon, whose founder Jeff Bezos owns The Washington Post, holds a nearly 20 percent stake in electric truck manufacturer Rivian. UPS and FedEx have each boosted their purchases of battery-powered delivery vehicles in recent years.

DeJoy said in March that it was not his agency’s responsibility to pursue fleet electrification.

“From my standpoint, my mission is delivering mail and packages,” he said. “The policy of electrifying the fleet of the nation is a mission that I will support. But I would be negligent to spend all my money on doing that.”

He continued: “I do think electrification of the vehicles is good. I’m a supporter. At this particular point in time, when I went to make the order, there’s 10,019 specific routes that I know are a slam dunk that we will use them and it will work. And that is how I make decisions as we move forward.”

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