US Postal Service slapped for weak last-mile emissions proposal

by Matthew Daly THE ASSOCIATED PRESS

A U.S. Postal Service plan to replace its huge fleet of mail-delivery trucks has too few electric vehicles and falls short of President Joe Biden’s goals to address climate change, the Environmental Protection Agency said Wednesday.

In a sharply worded letter to the Postal Service, the EPA says its plan to make 10 percent of its next-generation fleet electric “underestimates greenhouse gas emissions, fails to consider more environmentally protective feasible alternatives and inadequately considers impacts on communities with environmental justice concerns.”

It called for a new environmental review, saying the current proposal is a “crucial lost opportunity to more rapidly reduce the carbon footprint of one of the largest government fleets in the world.”

A 10 percent commitment to clean vehicles, “with virtually no fuel efficiency gains for the other 90 percent, is plainly inconsistent with” Biden’s plan to “move with deliberate speed toward clean, zero-emitting vehicles,” Associate EPA Administrator Vicki Arroyo wrote in a five-page letter obtained by The Associated Press.

The Postal Service did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

$3.3 billion plan

But Postal Service officials said in a document submitted to EPA that full electrification of the 230,000-vehicle fleet would cost an additional US$3.3 billion over the current plan. Money for a 100 percent electric fleet is included in Biden’s sweeping, $2 trillion Build Back Better plan, but the proposal remains stalled in Congress because of objections by Republicans and Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia.

Biden has set a goal to slash planet-warming greenhouse gas emissions by at least 50 percent below 2005 levels by 2030, with a goal to achieve net-zero emissions by 2050.

The Postal Service plan to replace its aging fleet of mail trucks and other delivery vehicles represents “the single largest federal vehicle procurement in the foreseeable future,” the EPA said. The postal fleet is likely to stay in service for decades, making the decision of how to replace it an “unparalleled opportunity for the federal government to lead by example on climate and clean energy innovation,” Arroyo wrote.

The Postal Service chose Wisconsin-based Oshkosh Corp. last year to assemble 50,000 to 165,000 Next Generation Delivery Vehicles. The company has said it will make the vehicles at a reconfigured warehouse in South Carolina, creating 1,000 new jobs.

Gasoline power

The new vehicle is greener than current models, which date to the 1990s, but most still will be powered by gasoline. The fleet will have features such as climate control, air bags, backup cameras and collision avoidance. The trucks are also taller to make it easier for postal carriers to grab packages and parcels, which have been making up a far greater portion of their deliveries, even before the coronavirus pandemic.

USPS described the deal as the first part of a multibillion-dollar, 10-year effort to replace its delivery vehicle fleet.

In a letter to EPA on Monday, the Postal Service said it can understand why EPA wants the new fleet to be greater than 10 percent electric, but says that is beyond the scope of its review.

“Disagreement with a policy decision … is neither a reflection of the adequacy of an Environmental Impact Statement, nor a sufficient ground” to seek a new review, said Jennifer Beiro-Reveille, senior director of environmental affairs for the Postal Service.

The Postal Service last updated its mail-delivery trucks 30 years ago, and there have been major changes in the service’s operations since then. Traditional mail volumes have declined, while the service now delivers millions of packages from online retailers like Amazon that did not exist when the previous mail vehicle was introduced.