USPS Trucks: Activists sue to prevent purchase of gas-guzzling vehicles

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Sixteen states, the District of Columbia and environmental activist groups are suing the US Postal Service to prevent its purchase of 148,000 gas-guzzling delivery trucks over the next decade, claiming the agency has significantly reduced vehicle costs and its harmful environmental impact.

Lawsuits brought by Earthjustice and the Natural Resources Defense Council allege that the Postal Service relied on false assumptions and miscalculations to justify spending up to $11.3 billion on gas-powered vehicles that get 8.6 mpg, only progressively better than 30 years ago. Old cars are in use now.

Postal officials hope the truck purchase goes smoothly and indicates that the Postal Agency is evolving to meet new business opportunities and compete with its private sector competitors. But the agency’s purchase plan will only have 10 percent of the new fleet earmarked for electric power, well below standards set by FedEx, UPS and Amazon. (Amazon founder Jeff Bezos owns The Washington Post.)

Transportation is the single largest emitter of greenhouse gases in the United States, but electric cars haven’t made much inroads yet. Electric car proponents had hoped the Postal Service contract would provide a boost to electric cars, which account for about 5 percent of all new car purchases.

Although there is broad consensus on the necessity of new mail trucks, the agency’s deal with Oshkosh has been criticized by environmental groups, who have said their 10 percent commitment to electric vehicles has not been enough. Meanwhile, organized labor groups resented the company’s decision to move manufacturing away from union shops.

Postal Service spokeswoman Kim Fromm said in an emailed statement that the agency “has conducted a robust and thorough review and fully complied with all of our obligations under the NEPA Act.”

The Postal Service has begun studying the environmental impacts of the vehicles — which federal regulators estimate will emit roughly the same amount of global warming carbon dioxide as 4.3 million passenger cars — after paying Oshkosh $482 million to start production. The lawsuits allege that the agency performed its analysis to justify the retroactive purchase decision.

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Postmaster General Louis Dejoy placed the agency’s first order of 50,000 trucks in March. 10019 of these vehicles will be electric, nearly double DeJoy’s original commitment. It is expected to hit the street by the end of 2023.

“The Postal Service has a historic opportunity to invest in our planet and our future. Instead, it is multiplying old technologies that harm our environment and harm our communities,” said California Attorney General Rob Ponta (Democrat), whose office leads the case for states in the Northern District of California.

“Once this purchase is completed, we will face more than 100,000 new fuel-guzzling cars on neighborhood streets… over the next 30 years. There will be no reset button,” he said in a statement. Mail in law and consider more environmentally friendly alternatives before making that decision.”

Regulators from the Environmental Protection Agency and the White House Council on Environmental Quality found serious shortcomings in the Postal Service’s environmental study. They said the agency has dramatically underestimated the cost of gas-powered vehicles — it forecast fuel prices at $2.19 per gallon, roughly $2 less than the US average this week — and how its emissions could worsen the climate crisis.

In an interview last month, DeJoy said “the economics my team came up with” sound and support his agency’s buying plan.

“This is the math we follow,” he said.

And the 10 percent electrical commitment falls short of goals from the White House and environmental activists. President Biden has called for the entire federal civilian fleet to be electric by 2035. The Postal Agency’s 217,000 vehicles make up the largest share of government non-military vehicles.

“The crux of this issue is that the postal service has run out [environmental] In hindsight, even the analysis it prepared was incomplete, misleading, and biased against clean cars,” attorney-at-law Adrian Martinez wrote in his complaint. The group is suing on behalf of the Sierra Club, the Center for Biodiversity and Clear Air Now, a Kansas-based nonprofit.

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“It is remarkable that the Postal Service signed a contract and paid millions of dollars for these vehicles first, before beginning their environmental analysis to justify their action, in flagrant violation of [the National Environmental Policy Act],” the lawsuit continues. “Not only will the Postal Service’s improper conduct needlessly pollute every American community for decades to come, but it will also cost millions more in taxpayer money and leave the agency vulnerable to fuel price volatility.”

Prosecutors also argue that Postal Service trucks will prevent states from meeting their environmental obligations. Other jurisdictions that have joined the case are Connecticut, Delaware, Illinois, Maine, Maryland, Michigan, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, Washington State, District of Columbia, New York City and the District Bay Area Air Quality Management, a Northern California environmental organization. The state’s lawsuit and lawsuit were filed in the Northern District of California.

The United Auto Workers union of nearly one million members joined the NRDC suit in the Southern District of New York. UAW leaders have objected to the contract since Oshkosh announced that it would build the trucks at a new, non-union plant in South Carolina rather than its main union facilities in Wisconsin.

“What we are asking the court is to get them to go back and re-do the environmental analysis,” said Frank Sturges, an NRDC attorney. “What the Postal Service actually buys, who they contract with, is a decision that has to come out of analysis after victory in our case.”

DeJoy said his agency would buy more electric trucks if Congress appropriated the money or if the Postal Service’s financial situation improved. The agency has long struggled with its finances after years of low mail revenue, but Biden recently signed legislation to forgive $107 billion in outstanding and future payments from its debt burden.

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Biden’s “Build Back Better” social spending package contained $6 billion for electric mail trucks and battery chargers. Biden’s 2023 budget proposal includes $300 million for electric mail vehicles and charging stations.

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DeJoy told The Post in March that the Postal Service didn’t have enough knowledge or experience with electric vehicles when he took office in June 2020 to pursue more electric vehicles into buying trucks.

In the meantime, he said, the agency operates trucks that have no airbags or air conditioning, and have been known to catch fire from years of excessive use. “We needed to buy trucks,” Dejoy said.

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