USPS forced to electrify its trucks by 2026 instead of its initial plan to delay

Postal Service will electrify trucks by 2026 in climate win for Biden

Agency says it can spend billions to buy 66,000 new electric vehicles and related infrastructure now that its finances are in better shape

By Jacob Bogage

Updated December 20, 2022 at 4:57 p.m. EST, Published December 20, 2022 at 9:18 a.m. EST

The U.S. Postal Service will buy 66,000 vehicles to build one of the largest electric fleets in the nation, Biden administration officials announced Tuesday, turning to one of the most recognizable vehicles on American roads — boxy white mail trucks — to fight climate change.

Postal officials’ plans call for buying 60,000 “Next Generation Delivery Vehicles” from defense contractor Oshkosh, of which 45,000 will be electric, Postmaster General Louis DeJoy told The Washington Post. The agency will also purchase 46,000 models from mainstream automakers, of which 21,000 will be electric.

The Postal Service will spend $9.6 billion on the vehicles and associated infrastructure, officials said, including $3 billion from the Inflation Reduction Act, President Biden and congressional Democrats’ landmark climate, health-care and tax law.

By 2026, the agency expects to purchase zero-emissions delivery trucks almost exclusively, DeJoy said. It’s a major achievement for a White House climate agenda that leans heavily on reducing greenhouse gases from vehicles.

“It’s wonderful that the Postal Service will be at the forefront of the switch to clean electric vehicles, with postal workers as their ambassadors,” said John Podesta, White House senior adviser for clean energy innovation. “It will get people thinking, ‘If the postal worker delivering our Christmas presents … is driving an EV, I can drive one, too.’”

The mail agency must replace its fleet of 30-year-old trucks, which lack air conditioning, air bags and other standard safety features. They get only 8.2 mpg. At an event Tuesday at Postal Service headquarters in Washington, DeJoy joked that the “Long Life Vehicles” were “best suited to museums rather than our hard-working carriers.”

He added that his agency would “immediately” begin prepping facilities to accept the vehicles, a process that began months ago as DeJoy led an agency reorganization to improve mail handling procedures and delivery route structures.

USPS trucks don’t have air bags or air conditioning. They get 10 mpg. And they were revolutionary.

The eight-year journey to procure new vehicles has been arduous and marked by political battles. White House officials slammed an earlier procurement proposal and said that courts or Congress could intervene to block the purchase of carbon-belching delivery trucks that posed a permanent risk to the planet and public health.

Fleet electrification is a major pillar of Biden’s plan to fight rising global temperatures. Biden has ordered the federal government to purchase only zero-emissions vehicles by 2035. With more than 217,000 vehicles, the Postal Service has the largest share of the U.S. government’s civilian fleet.

“It is setting the bar for the rest of the federal government, and more importantly, for the rest of the world,” Brenda Mallory, chair of the White House Council on Environmental Quality, said at Tuesday’s event.

EV boosters and environmental activists have said that an electric postal fleet could be a major lift for the auto industry’s investment in clean vehicles.

Biden administration officials hope it will persuade the Postal Service’s competitors to accelerate their own climate pledges, many of which rely on carbon-free delivery trucks.

“I think it puts pressure on them to up their game, too,” Podesta told The Post in an interview Monday. “If the Postal Service can move out with this kind of aggressive plan, the public expects these companies that have made these long-term announcements to catch up in the near term.”

Amazon, whose founder Jeff Bezos owns The Post, has promised to reach net-zero carbon emissions by 2040, and holds a close to 20 percent stake in electric truck maker Rivian. It is amassing an armada of 100,000 Rivian EVs that it hopes to have on the road by 2030.

FedEx has committed to carbon-neutral operations by 2040 with plans to completely electrify its pickup and delivery fleet by then. It has promised to purchase exclusively electric vehicles by 2030.

UPS has plans to go carbon-neutral by 2050 and use 40 percent alternative fuels by 2025.

The Postal Service will continue buying internal combustion engine vehicles because half of the fleet still consists of delivery vans and trucks that travel longer distances to ferry mail between cities and states.

The Postal Service is restructuring its vast mail processing and delivery network to minimize unnecessary transportation and fit facilities specifically for EVs. It will concentrate letter carriers at centralized locations rather than using small-town post offices to take advantage of existing infrastructure and cost savings associated with electric vehicles.

Members of Congress specifically cited an electric postal fleet as a sweetener to pass a major financial overhaul of the mail service in the spring. The Postal Service Reform Act eased the agency’s requirements for pension-plan funding, providing the financial flexibility to replace the delivery fleet, DeJoy said.

Senate passes $107 billion overhaul of USPS, lauding mail agency’s role in pandemic response

“As our financial trajectory improved, as our delivery strategy evolved, and with the help of the congressional funds to facilitate our ambition, we were very well positioned to move forward with more favorable plans that everyone can rally around,” DeJoy said Tuesday.

Sen. Gary Peters (D-Mich), who worked with DeJoy to craft that legislation, said in a statement that EVs would make the fleet “safer, more energy efficient and cheaper to operate in the long run.” Sen. Thomas R. Carper (D-Del.), a leading voice on postal issues, vowed to “keep up the pressure until 100 percent of USPS’s delivery fleet runs on clean energy.”

Biden’s zero-emission government fleet starts with USPS

When the Postal Service published its first vehicle replacement plan in 2021, it was set to make only 10 percent of the fleet electric. The rest would have been gas-powered trucks — with 8.6 mpg fuel economy with the air conditioning running — that could be retrofitted to battery power later by swapping out parts under the hood. But postal officials quickly abandoned that strategy because of cost and technical complexity.

Democrats in Congress, state officials and environmental activists were infuriated. Sixteen states, plus the District of Columbia, sued to block the 10 percent electric plan, as did some of the country’s leading environmental groups.

Podesta said he confronted DeJoy about his agency’s plans when the two began talking in September. By then, the Postal Service said 40 percent of its new trucks would be EVs.

“I told him that I thought the original plans were completely inadequate,” said Podesta, who described the conversations as friendly and purposeful. “I just think we thought it was critical to our success and the overall [climate change] program. So we stuck with it, pushed it, he pushed back, and we pushed back.”

DeJoy said that Podesta was “receptive” and helped work through the mail agency’s chronic budget problems.

“Our mission is to deliver mail to 163 million addresses first, and to the extent that we can align with other missions of other agencies and the president, I want to do that,” DeJoy said.

Some of the postmaster’s fiercest critics praised the announcement. Adrian Martinez, an attorney at climate activist group Earthjustice who is leading a lawsuit against the agency over its vehicle procurement, called the new truck purchase plan “a sea change in the federal fleet.”

“In the course of a year we’ve gone from a USPS plan to buy trucks with the fuel economy of a late 1990s Hummer to a visionary commitment to modernize mail delivery in the United States with electric trucks,” he said. “We’re grateful to the Biden administration for stepping in to put us on course for an electric future.”

Shares of Wisconsin-based Oshkosh rose more than 1.4 percent Tuesday. In an October securities filing, the company cautioned that it was facing engineering and factory construction delays related to the new Postal Service trucks, as well as “challenges” with recruiting and training new workers to build the vehicles in Spartanburg, S.C.

The company’s decision to build the trucks there has rankled some activists and union officials. Oshkosh’s Wisconsin employees are represented by the powerful United Auto Workers, and South Carolina’s labor laws are less favorable to organizing.

“The fact that there were no commitments for the vehicles to be union-made is a glaring omission for an administration that prides itself on being union friendly,” said Porter McConnell, campaign director of the consumer rights group Take on Wall Street and co-founder of the Save the Post Office Coalition. “We will be looking to future announcements committing to the Oshkosh and the commercial off-the-shelf vehicles being union-made, which we know is entirely feasible.”

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