Critics Slam USPS Failure To Pursue An Electrification Strategy

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Most of you probably don’t read the Federal Register. That’s that place where the government publishes all of its proposed purchasing decisions, from toilet seats to warplanes. It’s mind-numbing stuff, so you can be excused if you missed the latest announcement from the US Postal Service that says it has completed an exhaustive environmental impact review and decided that, yes, the entire fleet of vehicles its carriers use to deliver the mail — many of which were built in the 80s — needs replacing.

Last year, the USPS decided it would award the contract to build its next generation delivery vehicles to Oshkosh Defense and that 90% of them would use good old fashioned gasoline engines. Since the postal service buys new vehicles only every 40 years or so, that means America would be saddled with exhaust spewing postal trucks until well past mid-century. The post office says it would love it if all those new vehicles ran on electrons instead of molecules, but gosh darn it, there just isn’t enough money in the budget to pay for them.

According to Gizmodo, the latest notice in the Federal Register says electrifying the new delivery fleet is the “preferred option,” but the USPS would need $3.3 billion more than what Congress has authorized to make it happen. And besides, some routes in rural areas are too long, electric vehicles don’t have enough range, and there isn’t enough chargers. Get the picture? America has $1.5 trillion for a new generation fighter plane that can hardly get off the ground, but $3.3 billion for electric postal trucks over 10 years? Can’t be done. No way, no how.

The latest environment impact statement says 165,000 new electric trucks would eliminate about 537,000 metric tons of direct tailpipe emissions from postal operations each year. Those emissions are pesky things like the carbon dioxide that is making the planet overheat and fine particulates that lower cognitive function in children, make people sick, and lead to shorter lifespans. But such arcane concerns are lost on people like Joe Manchin, the alleged senator from West Virginia, who has put the kibosh on any spending legislation that might actually benefit real Americans instead of corporations. To save you the drudgery of reading the Federal Register yourself, here is the relevant part of this week’s announcement:

“The U.S. Postal Service announces availability of the Final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS) to purchase over ten years 50,000 to 165,000 purpose-built, right-hand-drive vehicles — the Next Generation Delivery Vehicle (NGDV) — to replace existing delivery vehicles nationwide that are approaching the end of their service life. While the Postal Service has not yet determined the precise mix of the powertrains in the new vehicles to be purchased, under the Proposed Action, at least ten percent of the NGDV would have battery electric (BEV) powertrains, with the remainder being internal combustion (ICE). The FEIS evaluates the environmental impacts of the Proposed Action, as well as two BEV and ICE commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) vehicle alternatives and the ‘‘no action’’ alternative. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s publication of the FEIS in the Federal Register begins a 30-day waiting period. Following the waiting period, the U.S. Postal Service will make a final decision regarding the Proposed Action and complete a Record of Decision.”

According to StreetsBlog, the Natural Resources Defense Council rejected the agency’s reasoning, saying it drastically overestimates the distance the average mail truck travels, while underestimating the mileage the average EV is capable of covering before it needs to be plugged in. The group pointed out that fewer than 6% of US mail routes are longer than 70 miles, while today’s electric cargo vans can already go 140 miles on a charge. Range is likely to go up as battery technology improves.

“The U.S. Postal Service confirmed that it’s dead set against considering the real world financial and health benefits of transitioning to zero-emitting electric vehicles,” said Patricio Portillo, transportation analyst at NRDC. “This is a lost opportunity and a huge disappointment. Given the current and future economics of electric vehicles, there’s no reason planning for the widespread shift to emissions-free vehicles should wait. Electric vehicles clearly make long term economic sense and the postal service should start planning now for a more rapid transition.”

StreetsBlog also notes that the USPS has not adopted the use of much less expensive 2- and 3-wheeled electric delivery bikes like those used by most major delivery services such as UPS, FedEx, and DHS in urban environments around the world.

The upshot is that the US postal service plans to saddle America with last century technology until at least the middle of this century. That is simply insane. But a defense contractor will profit handsomely from this arrangement, so don’t worry, people. It’s just business as usual in America — sadly.

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Steve Hanley

Steve writes about the interface between technology and sustainability from his home in Florida or anywhere else The Force may lead him. He is proud to be "woke" and doesn't really give a damn why the glass broke. He believes passionately in what Socrates said 3000 years ago: "The secret to change is to focus all of your energy not on fighting the old but on building the new." You can follow him on Substack and LinkedIn but not on Fakebook or any social media platforms controlled by narcissistic yahoos.

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