Last spring, the United States Postal Service announced that it would finally be replacing its fleet of Grumman Long Life Vehicles (LLVs) that have more than lived up to their name. Having entered into service in 1987 to replace the Dispatcher Jeep, the LLV is scheduled to be replaced by 150,000 new mail trucks from Oshkosh Defense. While the government originally wanted to use an all-electric platform, it was believed that rural routes probably required an internal combustion vehicle. Preexisting government contracts with Oshkosh likely made it a compelling manufacturer, though it annoyed some of the smaller candidates. Workhorse even used the USPS last summer for not selecting its hideous entrant, though the official complaint was that the government hadn’t given EVs a fair shake.
That now appears to be changing because the Biden administration and Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) have asked USPS to hold off on the $11.3 billion contract with Oshkosh so electric options can be reevaluated.
When the original deal was made in 2021, the Postal Service was desperate for replacement vehicles. Ancient Grumman trucks that failed to hang were being supplemented with whatever automobiles could be sourced locally and the hunt for their formal successor was already several years old.
When Oshkosh Defense was selected, its Next Generation Delivery Vehicle (NGDV) production designs hadn’t yet been finalized. But they were supposed to have the ability to be retrofitted with all-electric powertrains, with the default configuration being a “low-emission, internal-combustion engine.” The USPS stated that it had selected the NGDV due to its affordability, superior ergonomics, and capacity to hold higher volumes of mail than the alternatives. It also claimed that the ability to have internal combustion or battery power made it more adaptable while offering practicality in certain environments that an EV might lack.
But Joe Biden went into office vowing to replace the entire U.S. government fleet with all-electric vehicles, making the Postal Service’s prior decision to outfit just 10 percent of Oshkosh trucks with battery-driven powertrains a political problem.
The White House issued a letter to the USPS on February 2nd, signed by Brenda Mallory (Chair of the Council on Environmental Quality), criticizing how the Postal Service conducted its “environmental review” of Oshkosh. It also noted that its own “grave concerns” were shared by the EPA and that the national transition to all-electric vehicles was a “top priority” of the Biden administration. Mallory said that the post office would have the White House’s full support in electrifying its fleet, inducing budgetary and technical assistance.
The letter really doesn’t split hairs. It’s very clear that the Biden administration wants to maximize domestic EV production at all costs and criticizes the way in which Oshkosh products were evaluated. Among the more valid complaints is how the new NGDVs are only slightly more fuel-efficient than the outgoing LLVs.
Oshkosh trucks average 8.6 mpg while the older Grummans average 8.2 mpg. The EPA had previously expressed concerns about the environmental impact of the new trucks in the fall, suggesting the Environmental Impact Statements used to rationalize the deal were problematic. Though it’s not surprising that the agency sided with the Biden administration. Its current administrator, Michael S. Regan, launched North Carolina Environmental Justice and Equity Board and has vocally committed himself toward promoting green energy and addressing “environmental racism” at the EPA. Since being sworn in on March 11, 2021, Regan appears to be in close alignment with the Biden administration and ensuring the EPA exists in service of advancing EVs.
According to Reuters, the post office has responded to the criticisms leveled against it by saying it’s too impractical and expensive to buy thousands upon thousands of all-electric vehicles right now.
“While we can understand why some who are not responsible for the financial sustainability of the Postal Service might prefer that we acquire more electric vehicles, the law requires us to be self-sufficient,” USPS said in a statement, adding it was still “willing to accelerate the pace of electrification of our delivery fleet if a solution can be found to do so that is not financially detrimental to the Postal Service.”
Biden’s executive order to have the entire government fleet swap to EVs has created a problem here. The White House and regulatory agencies with agreeable appointees are demanding the USPS buy the “full minimum committed” EV volume before purchasing any new gas-powered vehicles. It also wants mail trucks to be replaced with commercially available electric trucks wherever possible. But the USPS doesn’t see it as financially viable, leaving us with just one solution — more government funding.
While the Postal Service has agreed to spend $500 million on the next-generation vehicles that are convertible to EVs from internal-combustion models, Biden’s Build Back Better Act would have allocated $6 billion in tax-payer funds for USPS to purchase electric delivery vehicles and the necessary charging infrastructure. With that kind of money, the post office believes it could potentially convert its entire fleet to electric models by 2030.
However, none of that would be a certainty, even with the additional funding. Meanwhile, the Build Back Better Act has been criticized for having far too little to do with practical infrastructure concerns, intentionally politicizing union involvement, funneling money to automakers, rejiggering tax codes around climate issues, and being outrageously expensive during a period where inflation has become a grave concern among legislators. The bill is currently stalled in Congress with the odds of it getting passed in its current form seeming slight at best.
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