“The Postal Service’s proposal as currently crafted represents a crucial lost opportunity to more rapidly reduce the carbon footprint of one of the largest government fleets in the world,” wrote Vicki Arroyo, the EPA’s associate administrator for policy, in a letter to the USPS.
The EPA warned DeJoy last fall that the environmental analysis it conducted for the contract was flawed and incomplete. In a USPS Board of Governors meeting Tuesday, DeJoy was typically defiant. He said the plan he has developed “builds in flexibility to increase the number of electric vehicles should additional funding become available from internal generation through profitable operations or through congressional appropriations should Congress decide to fund this initiative as a matter of public policy.”
However, he insisted, “we cannot at this time count on additional funding.” He said the Postal Service was concerned about both the cost of building the electric vehicles and the cost of infrastructure for them. He went on to say that the commitment to a fleet that is just 10% electric “is frankly ambitious given the pressing vehicle and safety needs of our aging fleet and our dire financial condition.” He did say that the USPS is conducting an environmental review of the plan, but added that “we are compelled to act prudently in the interest of the American public.”
That review is unlikely to pass muster with the EPA, which is already frustrated with DeJoy for having “funded as much as $482 million to the vendor” before conducting an environmental analysis, “exactly what CEQ regulations prohibit.” The EPA said that the Postal Service’s draft analysis “presents biased cost and emission estimates” that favor gas-powered vehicles.
“There were just pages and pages of detailed economic and environmental analysis by EPA that the Postal Service either ignored or dismissed with a rhetorical wave of its hand,” John Walke, who directs the clean-air project at the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), told The Washington Post. It’s entirely possible that DeJoy will be hit with lawsuits from NRDC and other environmental organizations if they go forward with this contract as is.
The EPA projects that the Postal Service’s new gas-powered trucks would total nearly 20 million metric tons in greenhouse emissions over the projected 20-year life span of the vehicles. That’s about the same as the annual emissions from 4.3 million passenger vehicles. They would burn about 110 million gallons of gas annually, just an 18% decrease in fuel consumption compared to the 30-year old vehicles in use now. Those emissions would cause an estimated $900 million in climate damages, the EPA estimates. An independent analysis determined that the agency would save $4.3 billion in the long term if it electrified the fleet entirely.
The USPS’s assertion that they can’t afford to go electric are thus questionable. The agency ended the 2021 fiscal year reporting $23.9 billion in liquidity in COVID-19 emergency funding. While the agency is in deep debt thanks to a 2006 law that requires it to prepay retiree health benefits 75 years into the future, that burden is likely to be eased by Congress.
On Tuesday, the House passed a postal reform bill in a strong bipartisan vote, 342-92. The bill wipes out $57 billion of the UPSP’s $206.4 billion in liabilities, straight off the top. It also ends that obligation for retiree health benefits, instead requiring retired postal workers to enroll in Medicare. That will save the agency about $50 billion over the next decade. The bill has strong bipartisan support in the Senate, with 14 Republicans cosponsoring the bill there, so it’s not likely to be filibustered.
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer applauded passage of the bill. "With an overwhelmingly bipartisan vote in the House,” he said “it is my intention for the Senate to take up and pass this bipartisan, bicameral postal reform bill before the end of this work period."
If the bill can move through the Senate quickly, there’s a better chance that DeJoy could finally be shown the door. There’s been reluctance in Congress and from postal service unions for ousting DeJoy because he’s been a champion of this legislation, and there’s been some fear that rocking the DeJoy boat could end up getting this key reform passed.
But getting rid of DeJoy is still high on the list of priorities for many Democrats. First, though, the final two pending nominees to the Board of Governors have to be confirmed, and then the full board needs to feel some pressure from Congress, from the White House, and from the public to do the right thing and can DeJoy.
That’s what Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse is urging. “The Postal Service urgently needs a change in leadership,” said Whitehouse. “Under Postmaster General DeJoy, the Postal Service is actively choosing to ignore science and the law in order to make sure one of the world’s largest fleets of government vehicles continues to be a major source of pollution. Postmaster General DeJoy has messed around with our mail system for too long and he’s caused real harm to the Americans who rely on it. This cannot continue.”
Rep. Gerald Connolly, the Virginia Democrat who leads the House subcommittee overseeing the United States Postal Service, agrees, calling DeJoy’s flouting of President Biden’s directive to electrify the fleet “antediluvian” and a threat to combatting climate change. “The average age of the postal fleet is 30 years,” Connolly said. “They’re spewing pollution and they are guzzling gas. There is no question we have to replace the fleet, and it is a once-in-a-generation opportunity to take electric vehicle technology to the next level with the second- largest vehicle fleet in America.”
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