USPS buys gas trucks: Are US states right to sue?

Rebecca Cook / Reuters

Fact Box

  • On April 28, 2022, California along with 15 other states sued the US Postal Service based on the decision to buy 165,000 or more gas-powered trucks with only 10% of the new vehicles being electric. Critics assert that the vehicles will cause environmental harm “for decades to come.” 
  • Spokesperson Kim Frum stated, “The Postal Service conducted a robust and thorough review and fully complied with all of our obligations under (the National Environmental Policy Act).”
  • The new gasoline cars are reported to get 14.7 miles per gallon without air conditioning and 8.6 mpg with air conditioning, while the old models got 8.4 mpg. Battery-electric vehicles (BEV) have a range of 70 miles for a single charge, with or without air conditioning. 
  • On April 13, 2022, California announced a proposal to ban the sale of gas vehicles by 2035, while promoting the sale of electric and zero-emission vehicles. According to the California Air Resources Board, over 15 states including New York, Massachusetts, and Vermont have adopted California’s vehicle standards under Section 177 of the Federal Clean Air Act. 
  • A 2021 Pew Research Center poll found 47% of American adults support the phase-out of gas powered vehicles, while 51% are in opposition.

Andrew (Yes)

As the USPS fleet of delivery trucks age and retire, it is worth taking a moment to consider the longevity of these vehicles. Most USPS trucks last 24-30 years, meaning poor environmental decision-making will have effects up to thirty years from now. The 16 states that have chosen to sue USPS over the purchase have realized that once the purchase goes through, there is no return. According to Earthjustice's Right to Zero campaign, the environmental review of the planned purchases didn't even meet the minimum standard set by the National Environmental Policy Act. This purchase is an important opportunity to make substantial environmental progress.

As more and more customers are turning to online shopping, the need for non-fossil fuel-burning delivery trucks is more critical than ever. The pandemic has turned many Americans on to a wide range of delivery services that go far beyond typical Amazon purchases. People are having everyday essentials such as toilet paper and dog food delivered, leading to an increase in postal volume that could translate into climate-wrecking levels of greenhouse gasses. Also, those Americans who live in cities already suffer from poor air quality due to pollution. Having clean electric vehicles on the road, circling through residential neighborhoods every day, would go a long way toward reducing this air pollution. Replacing these workhorse trucks with gas engines simply makes no sense, and these states are right to sue to stop it.

Finally, this suit is simply asking for a more thorough environmental review. It isn't seeking damages or attempting to ruin USPS. It is merely asking that we take time to make sure USPS is making an environmentally sound decision.

Curtice (No)

Sixteen states, including California, and New York, have filed suit against the US Postal Service over its new contract to replace some of its aging fleet of delivery vehicles as the USPS does not plan to purchase as many electric-powered vehicles (EVs) as these states and a hand full of environmental groups demand. The suit alleges the agency hasn't adequately accounted for the environmental harm of the vehicles, but as much as 20% of the vehicles purchased under the new USPS contract will be electric. Roughly 10,000 of the initial 50,000 orders. That is double the originally anticipated goal of 10%.

Like many other federal agencies, the USPS has long been accused of poor fiscal management and even theft. While that does not appear to be the case in this instance, Postmaster General Louis DeJoy stated the USPS needs to balance its commitment to an electric fleet in consideration with its 'dire financial condition.' One of the costs that must be considered when purchasing large fleets of EVs is their price tags as well as the cost of building charging stations to accommodate them. These costs are not insignificant, estimated around $2.8B. As the USPS Office of Inspector General noted, 'upfront costs of an electric delivery vehicle and necessary charging infrastructure is significantly higher than the cost of buying a new gasoline-powered vehicle.'

Today, less than 1% of vehicles on American roads are electric. The fleet of USPS EVs will rapidly outpace the American car buyers' appetite for purchasing their own EVs. The demand by these states and even the federal government that everyone and every institution start using EVs overall does not understand the full burden requiring more EVs will have on a state's power grid and the environment as a whole.

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