The House Oversight and Reform Committee took on one of the major thorns in the side of the Biden administration’s climate goals in a hearing on Tuesday: the Postal Service’s refusal to completely electrify its fleet.
Despite members of Congress' arguably most powerful committee asking tough questions, the USPS is doubling down on its investment in a new fleet of primarily gas-powered vehicles. This is despite ongoing pressure from the Environmental Protection Agency, and now lawmakers in the House. The White House has set a goal of electrifying all federal civilian vehicles by 2035, and mail trucks make up a major chunk of that fleet. The federal commitment to EVs could pay dividends by helping bring down costs for everyone. Yet the Post Office is weirdly not on board.
Late last month, the independent agency placed an order for 50,000 “next-generation delivery vehicles,” of which just more than 10,000 will be EVs. This is just the start of its up to $11.3 billion planned investment with Oshkosh Defense to replace the Postal Service's old (10 mpg!) fleet.
According to Victoria Stephen, executive director of USPS’ Next Generation Delivery Vehicles department, the agency faces “organizational and financial constraints” that prevent it from electrifying its fleet at a quicker pace. Though it is set up to be financially self-sufficient, the agency is doubling down on its central thesis when it comes to electrification: We’ll electrify if the funds to do so don’t come out of our own pockets.
“Fleet electrification is a near-term opportunity, but not a mission-critical one,” Stephen said at the hearing, adding that the agency “remains in a crisis condition.”
It's true that USPS has been in fairly dire financial straits in recent years owing to a byzantine set of circumstances put in place by a 2006 law. But Tammy Whitcomb, inspector general for the agency, caveated this reluctance in her testimony, citing recent research that found that EVs “are well-suited for most postal routes.”
EVs are also generally more cost-effective over time because they require less maintenance and have lower operating costs. However, the potential long-term benefits have come up against upfront costs in the form of both the higher per-vehicle price of EVs and the cost of installing the necessary charging infrastructure.
But Democratic lawmaker after Democratic lawmaker pressed Stephen on the Postal Service’s rationale while imploring the agency to reconsider. It seems we have a stalemate on our hands: If we want an electrified fleet, either Congress ponies up more funds ($6.9 billion, per a USPS analysis) or the public starts seeing substantial increases in the price of postage. Rep. Carolyn Maloney made it clear during today's hearing that Congressional Democrats would be open to offering more funding; after all, the dead-for-now Build Back Better Act included roughly $6 billion for these upgrades.
Whitcomb’s office plans to release two more reports later this year, including an audit of how the Postal Service acquires vehicles and its compliance with the National Environmental Policy Act, as well as an analysis of whether the agency’s vehicle maintenance facilities are up to snuff as it introduces new vehicles, both conventional and electric.