U.S. Electric Mail Truck Push Stalls Without More Funding

Source: By Devin Leonard, Bloomberg • Posted: Monday, February 14, 2022

The White House wants USPS to order more electric vehicles. The issue, as always, comes down to money

United States Postal Service mail delivery vehicles parked outside a distribution center in Chicago.

United States Postal Service mail delivery vehicles parked outside a distribution center in Chicago. Photographer: Luke Sharrett/Bloomberg

We all know the tribulations of the U.S. Postal Service. It’s losing billions of dollars a year, even as it’s delivering record numbers of packages, to say nothing of mail-in ballots, while struggling with Covid-related absences. Ben Franklin would be awed.

The slow-moving USPS is finally remedying this. Last year, it awarded a 10-year contract worth an estimated $11.3 billion to Oshkosh Corp. to furnish as many as 165,000 new vehicles. They’re rather cute and sparked a social media sensation when the Postal Service posted their preliminary images. The agency’s initial order includes 5,000 electric ones. 

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Sounds encouraging. But not as far as the White House is concerned. The Biden administration has scolded the USPS for not ordering more EVs. “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,” Vicki Arroyo, the EPA’s associate administrator for policy, wrote to U.S. Postmaster General Louis DeJoy earlier this month.

And that’s not to mention the consternation on Capitol Hill. Gerry Connolly, a senior House Democrat, has called for DeJoy, a Republican, to resign because of the paucity of his agency’s EV order.

Arroyo, at least, has a point. Given the leisurely pace of the Postal Service’s fleet replacement efforts, the trucks and vans it purchases now are likely to be in use for decades. Does it make sense for letter carriers to be piloting carbon emitting trucks in 2050? Not if the U.S. is expected to reach its goal of net zero emissions the same year.

DeJoy, however, has pushed back and he, too, makes sense. He says the USPS, which is supposed to be self-supporting, doesn’t have the money currently to buy more EVs. But as he has put it more than once, the agency would be happy to upgrade its order “should additional funding become available.”

The irony perhaps is that the White House and its congressional allies did try to make $6 billion available in the sprawling $2 trillion Build Back Better bill for electric postal vehicles and charging infrastructure. But after month of tortured negotiations, they couldn’t  round up enough votes from their own party members to pass it. With the midterm elections approaching, it may be too late.

After Build Back Better’s apparent collapse, it seems a tad hypocritical for Democrats to beat up on DeJoy for not embarking on an EV spree.  Then again, the situation isn’t as dire as the postmaster general’s critics would have people  believe.

As the USPS noted in its press releases announcing the Oshkosh deal, whether they are gas powered or run on batteries, the next generation of postal vehicles are being designed so they can be retrofitted to keep up with the latest in EV technology. Because who knows what will be available when these trucks and vans finally roll out — and who knows when Congress will get around to funding them?

Devin Leonard is a senior writer for Bloomberg News and the author of 
Neither Snow Nor Rain: A History of the United States Postal Service.