Energy & Environment

Democrats press postmaster to go with electric vehicles

Mail trucks are parked in a Postal Service lot
Associated Press/David Zalubowski
In February 2021, the Postal Service awarded a vehicle contract for a predominantly gasoline-powered fleet, and Postmaster General Louis DeJoy has only committed to 10 percent of the new vehicles being electric.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and climate hawk Democrats in Congress are pressing Postmaster General Louis DeJoy to backtrack on the purchase of thousands of gasoline-powered U.S. Postal Service vehicles, setting up a confrontation with one of the few federal officials President Biden can’t replace at will.

Biden in 2021 issued an executive order calling for the federal government to achieve net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 — an ambitious goal that would necessarily require the cooperation of the Postal Service, which has the single largest civilian vehicle fleet in the nation.

But in February 2021, the Postal Service awarded the vehicle contract to Oshkosh for a predominantly gasoline-powered fleet, and DeJoy has only committed to 10 percent of the up to 165,000 new vehicles being electric.

Last week, the EPA, the White House Council on Environmental Quality and a group of 17 Democratic senators and representatives called on DeJoy, a longtime donor to former President Trump who was appointed in 2020, to amend the Postal Service procurement plan to increase the percentage of electric vehicles. Senate Environment and Public Works Committee Chairman Tom Carper (D-Del.), who joined the congressional letter, also sent his own letter.

The EPA noted that the vehicles in the contract are projected to get 8.6 mpg, only a slight change from their predecessors’ 8.2 mpg.

The transportation sector comprises about one-third of all U.S. greenhouse gas emissions annually, the largest single source in the country.

Democrats, already unhappy with DeJoy, blasted the decision.

Rep. Gerry Connolly (D-Va.), who chairs the House Oversight and Reform subcommittee that oversees the Postal Service, called the decision to purchase the vehicles “another reason why DeJoy was the wrong choice in the summer of 2020 and he’s the wrong choice now to lead the postal service into the future.”

“If he were to succeed in this contract, to me, it’s an enormous lost opportunity,” Connolly told The Hill.

“Rather than delivering on the potential for a healthier, cheaper, and more climate-friendly fleet of mail trucks, Louis DeJoy is undercutting our government-wide goals and subverting the environmental review process,” Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.), who led the letter, told The Hill in a statement. “This is unacceptable, it’s short-sighted, and our nation’s postal carriers and customers deserve better.”

The Postal Service has maintained that fully electrifying the fleet would cost an additional $300 billion.

“While we can understand why some who are not responsible for the financial sustainability of the Postal Service might prefer that we acquire more electric vehicles, the law requires us to be self-sufficient,” the Postal Service said in a statement last week.

It added that it is prepared to electrify at a faster rate “if a solution can be found to do so that is not financially detrimental to the Postal Service.”    

“The proposed action, which we are evaluating under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), includes an initial order plan for 5,000 electric vehicles, and the flexibility to increase the number of electric vehicles introduced should additional funding become available,” DeJoy said in a statement Sunday. “Absent such funding, we must make fiscally responsible decisions that result in the needed introduction of safer and environmentally cleaner vehicles for the men and women who deliver America’s mail.”    

DeJoy made a similar defense of the move at a Tuesday Postal Service board meeting, saying he is “compelled to act prudently in the interest of the American public.”    

“That responsibility should not be mistaken for an ambivalent commitment to operating a cleaner postal vehicle fleet for our country,” he added. “As with everything else we now do, we will be resolute in making decisions that are grounded in our financial situation and what we can realistically achieve.”    

Reached for comment, a Postal Service spokesperson referred The Hill to the Friday statement.    

DeJoy’s history of donations to Republicans and Trump has led to Democratic scrutiny of his tenure at the Postal Service. This was particularly true in 2020, when he assumed office while Trump was frequently making baseless claims that mail-in voting would be used as a means for widespread voter fraud.  

Last March, the Postal Service unveiled a 10-year cost-cutting plan that would involve the closure of 18 mail-sorting facilities nationwide, consolidating the closed facilities’ services to other cities in their regions. The plan sparked outrage within the American Postal Workers Union, with leaders saying the planned cutbacks and consolidations would hurt service.  

Rep. Jared Huffman (D-Calif.), who introduced legislation in 2021 to make the Postal Service fleet 75 percent electrified, dismissed DeJoy’s response to the criticisms of its purchasing plan as “hostage-taking,” telling The Hill that DeJoy “suggest[ed] that if Congress sweetened the deal enough, them he could go ahead and electrify.”    

“It shouldn’t have to take that,” Huffman added, noting that many of the Postal Service’s biggest competitors, such as Amazon and FedEx, are actively electrifying their fleets “just on the economics of it.”    

“Unfortunately, the Postal Service is still sitting on a [Request for Proposal] and a contract that could have been written in the 1980s,” he added. “If Louis DeJoy has his way, he’s going to buy a whole bunch of gas guzzlers that in 15 or 20 years will be the last internal combustion fleet vehicles on the road.”    

DeJoy was appointed by the Postal Service Board of Governors, all of whom were themselves named by Trump, and cannot be removed by Biden. While Congress’s recourse is also limited, Connolly noted that it has legislated on postal issues before, such as in 2006, when it voted down a proposal to change mail delivery from six to five days a week.    

“Congress has legislative oversight, so we do have options and we’ll look at them very carefully,” he said.    

While neither Congress nor the Biden administration can order DeJoy to reconsider the order, they can apply public pressure, as in 2020, when lawmakers pressured DeJoy to walk back operational changes like the removal of some public mailboxes.    

DeJoy also delayed a number of planned cost-cutting measures within the department after widespread concern that they could affect mail-in voting in the 2020 presidential election during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Tags Donald Trump Ed Markey Gerry Connolly Jared Huffman Joe Biden Louis DeJoy Tom Carper

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