The House Committee on Oversight and Reform held a lengthy hearing on Tuesday titled “It’s Electric: Developing the Postal Service Fleet of the Future” in order to “examine the benefits, opportunities, and challenges of electrifying the Postal Service fleet through the acquisition of the Next Generation Delivery Vehicle (NGDV),” according to the committee. The NGDV program offered a chance for the Postal Service to align its vision of replacing old, emissions-heavy vehicles with the Biden administration’s emission reductions goals. That chance has so far been squandered: Just 10,019 of the 50,000 vehicles ordered by the agency will be electric. Naturally, lawmakers wanted answers from the USPS for this discrepancy.
… except for Republicans, many of whom brought up conspiracy theories about Hunter Biden and missed the point about mineral mining operations, battery capacities, and charging stations. Reps. Andy Biggs and James Comer entered various articles into the record about the president’s son, with Comer promoting an anti-Hunter Biden letter he’d penned and Biggs asking to subpoena him. Regardless of whether Hunter Biden has a vested interest in cobalt mining (and it’s unclear if he does), bringing up the issue of ethical mining is rich coming from Republicans who have clearly benefitted from far more damaging mining practices. In Comer’s represented state of Kentucky, coal mining has devastated the landscape and plagued Comer’s constituents with major health problems. Yet Comer has raked in more than $70,000 from the coal mining industry since 2011.
While it’s true that mineral mining for EV batteries has plenty of downsides, there may be more ethical options emerging. Companies and government agencies are looking into the environmental impact of drilling for lithium in California’s Salton Sea and recent research suggests that it’s extremely likely that environmental concerns will decrease as technology develops in this sector. And with Biden invoking the Defense Production Act to incentivize additional mineral mining, Republicans worried about unethical labor practices within the mining sector as well as its damage to the planet may not have to worry for long.
If anything, workers should be concerned about the anti-union U.S. lawmakers that sit on the Oversight and Reform Committee, such as South Carolina Rep. Ralph Norman, who praised his state’s right-to-work status and took his opportunity to speak during Tuesday’s hearing to promote anti-union sentiments. “I think it’s interesting that we have politicians who are saying that union workers, I guess, are more qualified than those who choose not to be in the union. I will remind my friends across the aisle that it’s the employees who have the choice to go union or not union,” Norman said, adding that Oshkosh Defense will base its NGDV production for the Postal Service in South Carolina. Committee members have long worried that Oshkosh chose Spartanburg, South Carolina, in order to avoid using union labor because of the state’s explicit hostility toward organized labor.
If Republicans were truly concerned about ethical labor in the transition away from gas-powered cars, they would join their Democratic counterparts in calling on the USPS to reconsider its current plan in favor of building an entirely EV fleet that meets the needs of this critical moment in climate change mitigation while also using union labor in an effort to manufacture these vehicles fairly. According to a press release, lawmakers like Chairwoman Carolyn Maloney and activists in the labor and environmental movements will deliver thousands of petitions tomorrow to USPS headquarters. Even a recent Inspector General report shows that EVs would be a more sound investment for the USPS in the long run.