A lawsuit against the United States Postal Service over the environmental issues from their Next Generation Delivery Vehicle Acquisition program over the next several decades was filed by California Attorney General Rob Bonta, in conjunction with 15 other states on Wednesday, potentially halting the USPS from changing out it’s current fleet of mail trucks over the next decade.
The controversy dates back to February 2021. The USPS, needing new trucks to swap out with their current aging fleet of mail trucks, awarded a 10-year contract to Oshkosh Defense worth billions to produce up to 165,000 new mail delivery vehicles over the next decade. In addition to more cargo capacity and a better environmental design, despite the majority still being gas powered, the vehicles would also include heating, air-conditioning, as well as more technological improvements. Overall, it would constitute the largest USPS fleet changes made in 30 years.
“Our fleet modernization also reflects the Postal Service’s commitment to a more environmentally sustainable mix of vehicles,” Postmaster General Louis DeJoy said last year. “Because we operate one of the largest civilian government fleets in the world, we are committed to pursuing near-term and long-term opportunities to reduce our impact on the environment.”
However, the new vehicles faced an immediate negative reaction. In addition to charges against the design being “ugly” and why they were awarded to Oshkosh, governmental and environmental groups quickly called out the vehicles for being mostly not electric and barely improving upon the older vehicles. Some groups even accused the USPS of putting the comfort of drivers over sound logistical sense.
The February 2022 EPA report on the new trucks proved to be most concerning, with previous supporters of the new project beginning to think twice. The EPA found that the new vehicles had a barely improved 0.4 mile-per-gallon fuel economy. And during hotter months, with the air conditioners running in the new trucks, which the current fleet does not have, it would actually be worse. The agency also found that that the USPS didn’t go through the proper National Environmental Policy Act procedures, that the contract left out critical environmental information, that only 10% of the the fleet was to be electrified in total despite a capacity for 95% of routes able to be served by electric vehicles, as well as numerous other violations, including going against several Presidential Executive Orders.
LeJoy and the Post Office decided to move ahead anyway, noting that they had met all legal requirements, needed the process to continue to swap out the aging fleet, and that, if they had to replace more gas powered vehicles for electric vehicles, costs could go up by as much as $4 billion. In March, the USPS announced their first initial order of 50,000 vehicles from Oshkosh, with just over 10,000 of them battery operated – 5,000 more than originally earmarked.
“Today’s order demonstrates, as we have said all along, that the Postal Service is fully committed to the inclusion of electric vehicles as a significant part of our delivery fleet even though the investment will cost more than an internal combustion engine vehicle.” said LeJoy last month. “That said, as we have also stated repeatedly, we must make fiscally prudent decisions in the needed introduction of a new vehicle fleet. We will continue to look for opportunities to increase the electrification of our delivery fleet in a responsible manner, consistent with our operating strategy, the deployment of appropriate infrastructure, and our financial condition, which we expect to continue to improve as we pursue our plan.”
Criticism of the new USPS fleet plan
Critics immediately noticed that the USPS was still largely ignoring the EPA and other agencies in terms of getting electric cars or those with decent fuel economy.
“It was a completely pig-headed approach to an issue that had a clear solution,” Mitchell Thomas, a vehicle procurement specialist for multiple corporations, told the Globe on Thursday. “If you have multiple government agencies and groups pointing out obviously wrong things to you, the smart thing is to make the changes then get some good PR out of it. It may cost extra sometimes, but for things like cars, if a group complains that you aren’t going environmentally friendly, you can drum up a lot more business by showing how you are going green, save money through not paying for as much gas, and other things. Short -term you can take a hit, but long-term it can pay off. You just need to see the bigger picture and not ignore the growing number of people at the gate, especially if they are on social media and blasting you every day.”
“The USPS attempted to assuage concerns by adding a small number of electric vehicles over their initial amount. But they just flat out refused to pump the brakes on their plans. And based on what happened the last few days, they may be very well regretting that.”
The USPS continuing forward with their plans spurred multiple states, environmental groups, lobbying groups, and unions to file multiple lawsuits since Wednesday afternoon aimed at stopping the USPS’ plans and having them purchase more electric vehicles over their current gas-powered vehicle-heavy plans.
One lawsuit, filed in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California, was backed by the Center for Biological Diversity, Earthjustice, CleanAirNow KC and the Sierra Club. In New York, another was filed by the Natural Resources Defense Council and United Auto Workers.
And finally there is Bonta’s lawsuit, which in addition to California, has the Attorney Generals of Connecticut, Delaware, the District of Columbia, Illinois, Maine, Maryland, Michigan, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, and Washington behind it, as well as the city of New York and the Bay Area Air Quality Management District. Like the environmental-backed case, State of California v. United States Postal Service was filed in the San Francisco-based U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California.
The Air District has joined the State of California’s lawsuit against the @USPS to stop the agency from replacing 90% of its delivery fleet with fossil fuel-powered vehicles, which would lock in decades of air pollution and #greenhousegas emissions. More ➡️https://t.co/lA1X7V1Y5s pic.twitter.com/xe5NAVZvyJ
— Bay Area Air Quality (@AirDistrict) April 28, 2022
Environmental, electric powered vehicle concerns
Attorney General Bonta noted in a statement that the USPS is moving forward with a plan to put over 100,000 new gas-powered vehicles on the road during a time when a major shift towards electric cars is happening. He also explained that he wants to bring the USPS back into compliance with the law and to push them more to environmentally friendly vehicles.
“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,” Bonta said on Wednesday. “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.”
Bay Area Air Quality Management District senior deputy executive officer of operations/enforcement Damian Breen added in his own statement: “The Postal Service has a tremendous opportunity to electrify its delivery fleet to reduce air pollution and greenhouse gases, but has inexplicably chosen a fossil fuel future instead. The Postal Service’s current path sustains real and lasting health impacts for local communities – many of whom are communities of color that are already overburdened by air pollution. The State of California, the Air District and our partners are simply seeking to enforce the Postal Service’s obligation to follow processes mandated by federal law.”
Critics noted that those in the three lawsuits may have a hard time getting the USPS to significantly expand their electric fleet even if triumphant in court.
“The USPS has had these plans in motion for quite some time, they have contracts,” continued Thomas. “They may boost the number of electric vehicles again, but it would be difficult to stop these plans at this point. If a judge orders that, all hell would break loose. Current trucks are older, postal employees have been demanding fleet changes for years, and there are billions at stake. There’s a lot more here than meets the eye.”
As of Thursday afternoon, three lawsuits have been filed against the USPS over the new vehicle fleet.
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