Anger swells over the postmaster general's plan to purchase gas-powered trucks

Anger swells over the postmaster general's plan to purchase gas-powered trucks
Postmaster General Louis DeJoy
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Progressive lawmakers and environmentalists voiced outrage Wednesday after the U.S. Postal Service—led by Trump megadonor Louis DeJoy—finalized its plan to purchase a fleet of largely gas-powered delivery trucks, a move that flouts President Joe Biden's proposed transition to zero-emission government vehicles.

The USPS announced in a press release that it "completed its obligations under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) process, which, in this instance, evaluated the potential environmental impacts of the Postal Service's Next Generation Vehicle Delivery (NGDV) program."

The agency described its move to purchase upwards of 165,000 new trucks—90% of which will be gas-powered—as "fiscally and environmentally responsible," but critics argued the analysis underpinning that characterization is badly flawed.

"DeJoy's plans for the postal fleet will drag us back decades with a truck model that gets laughable fuel economy. We may as well deliver the mail with hummers," Adrian Martinez, a senior attorney at Earthjustice, said in a statement. "DeJoy's environmental review is rickety, founded on suspect calculations, and fails to meet the standards of the law. We're not done fighting this reckless decision."

According to EarthJustice, the "new combustion model gets worse mileage than the 1988 Grumman postal truck model when new, and is designed to weigh just one pound over the threshold that would have subjected it to more efficient light-duty vehicle standards."

"Under the National Environmental Policy Act, federal entities must analyze the consequences of their actions before making them," the group noted. "Here, the Postal Service did a deeply flawed analysis too late. In addition, the Postal Service has thus far avoided holding public hearings on the plans, and says it is rejecting the comments from over 20,000 members of the public who commented on the final plan through Earthjustice's action portal."

The USPS announcement came just three weeks after Biden's Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) raised several issues with the mail service's earlier climate analysis of its multibillion-dollar deal with the Wisconsin-based corporation Oshkosh Defense, which plans to manufacture the new delivery trucks with non-union labor in South Carolina.

Specifically, the EPA accused the Postal Service of underestimating the new fleet's future greenhouse gas emissions and failing to "consider more environmentally protective feasible alternatives."

The Postal Service insisted Wednesday that it "carefully reviewed and incorporated feedback" from the EPA and DeJoy claimed his plan for a 10% electric fleet is "ambitious," but climate advocates were far from satisfied.

"USPS is clinging to a polluting past with its inexcusable and shortsighted dirty fleet plan, a decision that will have consequences for decades to come," said Katherine García, Sierra Club's Clean Transportation for All director. "The Biden administration, Congress, environmental and public health groups, and air regulators have made it clear that electrifying the Postal Service must be a top priority for climate and public health."

"Refusing to hold a public hearing on such a flawed and controversial plan speaks volumes about the ill intentions of Postmaster Louis DeJoy," García added. "There should be no reason this plan is moving forward in 2022."

While it's undeniable that the aging USPS fleet is in desperate need of replacement—as evidenced by the hundreds of delivery trucks that have caught fire in recent years—environmentalists and progressive members of Congress have argued that the new vehicles should be completely electric, so as to help tackle the biggest single source of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions.

It's not clear precisely how opponents of DeJoy's plan intend to respond as the USPS—an independent agency—plows ahead with the purchasing process. Martinez of Earthjustice told the Washington Post earlier this month that he "highly suspects" environmental advocates will try to take the Postal Service to court over the contract.

In Congress, Democratic lawmakers are reportedly "exploring ways of blocking the plan," but their options are uncertain.

Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) wrote in a Twitter post Wednesday that "we need to tear this deal up and build an all-electric fleet of USPS vehicles."

"Postmaster Louis DeJoy is making a huge mistake rejecting the reality of climate change and the commitments that President Biden has made to confront this crisis," Markey added.

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