On Thursday, The UAW and a group of environmental groups based in the United States filed numerous lawsuits in an effort to block the U.S. Postal Service (USPS) from moving forward with plants to purchase gasoline-powered next-gen delivery vehicles (NGDVs) from Oshkosh Defense. The suits are being launched on the grounds that the USPS failed to comply with environmental regulations and went back on an earlier promise to field all-electric variants.
They’re supported by the White House — which launched an initiative to convert the entire federal fleet into battery electric vehicles last year — and congressional Democrats that were angered after the Postal Service went against the Biden administration’s request to prioritize EVs. The president and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) even went so far as to request that the USPS to hold off on the $11.3 billion contract with Oshkosh so electric options can be reevaluated. However, Postmaster General Louis DeJoy has repeatedly stated that it’s not realistic to field a significant number of electric vehicles and that the mail service would need additional funding from the government to consider such a move.
While it does indeed feel like the USPS thought it could operate an electrified fleet based on its final list of candidate vehicles, it might be difficult to prove that it went back on its word in the courts. Despite there being a lot of talk about all-electric mail trucks ahead of the formal purchasing decision, the agency intentionally selected Oshkosh’s NGVDs because they were the most like the venerated Grumman LLVs that far exceeded their expected lifespans. But the manufacturer designed the new trucks with the ability to me modified into hybrids or transformed into fully electric vehicles. The USPS said this was a desirable feature and would likely be utilized more in the future as technology improved. However it had concerns that electrified models would be too expensive to adequately replace its haggard fleet and not work for every route until the relevant battery tech was better.
“As we have reiterated throughout this process, our commitment to an electric fleet remains ambitious given the pressing vehicle and safety needs of our aging fleet as well as our fragile financial condition. As our financial position improves with the ongoing implementation of our 10-year plan, Delivering for America, we will continue to pursue the acquisition of additional BEV as additional funding – from either internal or congressional sources – becomes available,” DeJoy said in February. “But the process needs to keep moving forward. The men and women of the U.S. Postal Service have waited long enough for safer, cleaner vehicles to fulfill on our universal service obligation to deliver to 161 million addresses in all climates and topographies six days per-week.”
According to Automotive News, the United Auto Workers and its allies within the Democratic Party are upset that the USPS opted to use non-union workers based in South Carolina — rather than a UAW-represented facility in Wisconsin. Meanwhile, the environmental lobby feels misled because there won’t be a substantial number of electrified mail trucks vs traditional combustion models.
CleanAirNow, the Center for Biological Diversity, and Sierra Club challenged USPS’s plan in the U.S. District Court in San Francisco, while the UAW and the Natural Resources Defense Council said they had filed a separate challenge on similar legal grounds.
The White House and Environmental Protection Agency have also asked USPS to reconsider as have many Democrats in Congress.
In March, USPS said it had placed an initial $2.98 billion order for 50,000 next-generation delivery vehicles from Oshkosh Corp. — and had doubled its planned EV purchases from 5,000 to 10,019.
USPS said Thursday in response to the suits it had “conducted a robust and thorough review and fully complied with all of our obligations under” environmental law.
The suits argue the contract was based on an unlawfully deficient environmental analysis issued after the USPS had already decided on its plans.
The USPS announced an initial $482 million contract for Oshkosh in February of 2021, saying it could order up to 165,000 vehicles over 10 years in a deal that could exceed $6 billion. It now says that a larger percentage of the whole could become EVs if more money falls into its lap, but that it needs to start replacing the now-ancient Grumman LLVs (and whatever passenger vehicles had to be incorporated to fill out the Postal Service’s ranks) immediately.
Unless the lawsuits put the kibosh on that progress, the USPS believes the Oshkosh NGDVs should start tackling routes in 2023 — loaded with the modern safety features and creature comforts their predecessor lacked. However, only a small fraction will be electrified.
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