Energy & Environment

States, environmental groups sue USPS over gas-powered trucks

Sixteen states and a coalition of environmental groups on Thursday announced a lawsuit against the U.S. Postal Service (USPS) for its decision to upgrade the majority of its fleet with fossil fuel-powered vehicles. 

Environmental groups and climate hawks in Congress have blasted Postmaster General Louis DeJoy’s decision to buy new gas-powered vehicles with mileage of 8.6 miles per gallon.

Of the up to 165,000 vehicles, USPS has only committed to making about 10 percent of them electric. President Biden in December signed an executive order setting a target of carbon neutrality throughout the federal government, which would be severely complicated if the Postal Service — the single biggest federal fleet — does not transition to renewable energy. 

Electric vehicle advocates have called postal vehicles ideal for electrification, as they travel short distances at a time and are returned to a central location overnight. 

Plaintiffs in the lawsuit include EarthJustice, Sierra Club and the Center for Biological Diversity, as well as the attorneys general of California, New York, Connecticut, Delaware, the District of Columbia, Illinois, Maine, Maryland, Michigan, New Jersey, New Mexico, North Carolina, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont and Washington.

New York City and the Bay Area Quality Management District also joined the challenge. 

“The Postal Service has a historic opportunity to invest in our planet and in our future. Instead, it is doubling down on outdated technologies that are bad for our environment and bad for our communities,” California Attorney General Rob Bonta (D) said in a statement.

“Once this purchase goes through, we’ll be stuck with more than 100,000 new gas-guzzling vehicles on neighborhood streets, serving homes across our state and across the country, for the next 30 years. There won’t be a reset button. We’re going to court to make sure the Postal Service complies with the law and considers more environmentally friendly alternatives before it makes this decision.” 

In the lawsuit, the plaintiffs accuse DeJoy of using “deeply flawed” techniques on the environmental analysis that led to the order.

The lawsuit alleges that USPS inflated the costs of batteries to justify lack of electrification and underestimated gas prices. The analysis was conducted before recent surges in gas prices and was based on a projected gas price of $2.19 per gallon.

The lawsuit also claims that USPS underestimated the mileage per charge of electric vehicles, projecting 70 miles per charge even though currently available vehicles get as much as 200 miles per charge.

“DeJoy’s environmental process was so rickety and riddled with error that it failed to meet the basic standards of the National Environmental Policy Act,” Adrian Martinez, a senior attorney on Earthjustice’s Right to Zero campaign, said in a statement. “We’re going to court to protect the millions of Americans breathing in neighborhoods overburdened with tailpipe pollution. Mail delivery in this country should be electric for our health and for our future.” 

The USPS order has also attracted criticism and scrutiny from congressional Democrats and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). In a letter in February, eight Democratic lawmakers in the House Sustainable Energy and Environment Coalition urged DeJoy to reverse the move, saying it “flies in the face of the commitments the United States has made to address the climate crisis.” In a letter of its own, the EPA called the plan a “crucial lost opportunity.” 

DeJoy has defended the move as a consequence of the EPA’s “dire financial situation.” In a February interview with The Hill, Rep. Jared Huffman (D-Calif.) dismissed this as “hostage-taking.” 

In a statement to The Hill, a USPS spokesperson said USPS “conducted a robust and thorough review and fully complied with all of our obligations under [the National Environmental Protection Act].”

The spokesperson noted that the contract is a so-called indefinite delivery contract that allows for the addition of more vehicles if more funding becomes available, and noted that the 10 percent figure was a floor rather than a ceiling and could increase.

Updated: 3:11 p.m.

Tags Biden carbon emmissions Carbon Neutral Electric vehicles Electric vehicles Joe Biden Louis DeJoy Louis DeJoy Rob Bonta United States Postal Service USPS

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