Your Mail Truck Is Going Electric
WASHINGTON — The United States Postal Service announced on Tuesday that it planned to buy at least 66,000 electric vehicles by 2028, creating one of the largest battery-powered fleets in the nation and resolving a long-running dispute with the Biden administration over how quickly the agency should clean up its fleet of iconic white, red and blue mail trucks.
The post office said it would invest $9.6 billion over the next six years to refurbish its aging mail delivery fleet. That includes buying 60,000 delivery vehicles from Oshkosh Defense, a Wisconsin-based company that manufactures military vehicles, of which at least 45,000 will be electric battery-powered. The agency also plans to buy at least 21,000 additional electric vehicles from other manufacturers and intends to stop buying gas-powered delivery trucks altogether after 2026.
President Biden has set a goal of electrifying the federal government’s vast fleet of cars and trucks in order to tackle global warming. With more than 231,000 vehicles, the Postal Service owns one of the largest civilian vehicle fleets in the world. Electric vehicles typically produce fewer planet-warming greenhouse gases than their gasoline-powered counterparts, even when taking into account emissions from the power plants that provide their electricity.
Yet until recently, Louis DeJoy, the postmaster general, had largely resisted Mr. Biden’s calls to put more electric vehicles on the road, citing high upfront costs and budget constraints.
When the Postal Service made public a plan in February to replace up to 165,000 older mail trucks, many of which are 30 years old and lack air-conditioning, it announced that only 10 percent of the new vehicles would be electric. The rest would be gasoline-powered and get an estimated 8.6 miles per gallon when the air conditioning was turned on.
The Biden Administration’s Environmental Agenda
- Climate Adaptation Policy: The Interior Department is giving money to Native American tribes to help them relocate away from areas that are vulnerable to climate change, potentially creating a model for other communities around the country.
- Establishing Safeguards: The Biden administration is working to avoid waste and abuse in the delivery of $370 billion in new federal subsidies for electric vehicles and other clean energy technologies.
- Divided Government: The Democrats’ strong showing in the 2022 midterms ensures that Mr. Biden’s climate bill will be fully implemented. But a Republican-controlled House is likely to try to slow some elements.
That triggered a fierce backlash from Biden administration officials and Democrats in Congress, who warned that all those new gasoline-powered trucks would stay on the road for decades, spewing heat-trapping pollution into the air all the while. The White House and the Environmental Protection Agency argued that the plan was based on a flawed environmental analysis. Attorneys general from 16 states and the District of Columbia, along with five environmental groups and the United Auto Workers, sued the agency over the decision.
In July, the Postal Service shifted course and promised that 40 percent of new trucks would be electric. But, Mr. DeJoy said, the agency needed more funding from Congress if it wanted to go further. (Electric vehicles can cost more upfront than gasoline-powered models, though they can often make up the savings on fuel and maintenance costs in subsequent years.)
The breakthrough came in August, when Congress passed the Inflation Reduction Act, a sweeping tax and climate change law that included $3 billion for the Postal Service to electrify its fleet.
“The $3 billion provided by Congress has significantly reduced the risk associated with accelerating the implementation of a nationwide infrastructure necessary to electrify our delivery fleet,” Mr. DeJoy said in a statement Tuesday. “We have a statutory requirement to deliver mail and packages to 163 million addresses six days per week and to cover our costs in doing so — that is our mission. As I have said in the past, if we can achieve those objectives in a more environmentally responsible way, we will do so.”
White House officials hailed the move. “Moving packages from Point A to Point B in a way that’s cleaner, more cost-effective, and accelerating toward an electric vehicle future stamped ‘Made in America,” said Ali Zaidi, Mr. Biden’s national climate adviser. “This is the Biden climate strategy on wheels, and the U.S. Postal Service delivering for the American people.”
As part of the new plan, the Postal Service plans to upgrade hundreds of facilities across the country to accommodate electric vehicles, including installing chargers and streamlining its delivery operations to reduce unnecessary trips. And the agency plans to study the feasibility of shifting to 100 percent electric vehicles.
Many of the Postal Service’s competitors are also planning to clean up their fleets. FedEx has said it intends to completely electrify its pickup and delivery fleet by 2040. Amazon has ordered 100,000 electric vans from Rivian, a start-up, though there are questions about how quickly the manufacturer can deliver.
For the time being, the Postal Service isn’t ready to give up fossil fuels altogether. It still plans to buy roughly 40,000 gas-powered vehicles between now and 2028, including vans and trucks that have to travel longer distances between cities and states.
But supporters of electric vehicles said that for many mail routes, electric vehicles should work well, at least in theory. And because mail trucks are ubiquitous, running in both congested cities and quiet rural towns, they could end up being an advertisement for the technology.
“Postal routes are predictable and include ample charging time to meet the fleet’s power needs,” said Joe Britton, executive director of the Zero Emission Transportation Association, an electric vehicle trade group. “Transitioning these older, inefficient vehicles to E.V.s will not only serve as a visual reminder of their value and reliability but will also provide public health, environmental, and economic benefits to our communities.”