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oshkosh electric vehicle USPS Oshkosh Defense
USPS Next Generation Delivery Vehicle, image courtesy of Oshkosh Defense

Clean Transport

The Battle Over Electric Vehicles For USPS Heats Up

The USPS fight over next-generation delivery vehicles is far from over. In fact, it may be just beginning.

If you thought it was over when the USPS announced last year that it had selected Oshkosh Defense to build the next generation of postal delivery vehicles, think again. The USPS is a quasi-public independent corporation that is not under the direct control of the executive branch. It is, however, subject to the Congressional budgetary process. This creature, neither fish nor fowl, is a favorite target of politicians who love to saddle it with impossible and often conflicting obligations. It is, quite frankly, a mess, and has been for generations, thanks to the need for it to be responsive to the demands of hundreds of bosses.

The current administration is promoting an all-electric future for all government vehicles. The USPS has about 230,000 vehicles, but the administration has no direct say in what those vehicles should be or how much they should cost. All it can do is suggest, cajole, plead, beg, and bang its fist on the table. That’s exactly what’s happening right now this very minute.

The Environmental Protection Agency is under the direct control of the executive branch, and it has taken up the cause by sending a 5-page letter to USPS excoriating it for giving the contract to build next-generation postal delivery vehicles to Oshkosh Defense and only requiring 10% of them be battery-electrics. The Associated Press obtained a copy of the letter signed by associate EPA administrator Vicki Arroyo.

In it, she says the current contract “underestimates greenhouse gas emissions, fails to consider more environmentally protective feasible alternatives and inadequately considers impacts on communities with environmental justice concerns.” Arroyo calls on USPS to conduct a new environmental review, saying the current proposal is a “crucial lost opportunity to more rapidly reduce the carbon footprint of one of the largest government fleets in the world.″

The EPA also asked the Postal Service to hold a public hearing on the fleet modernization plan. A 10% commitment to clean vehicles, “with virtually no fuel efficiency gains for the other 90%, is plainly inconsistent with” the Biden administration’s plan to “move with deliberate speed toward clean, zero-emitting vehicles,” Arroyo writes.

Kim Frum, a spokesperson for the USPS, said in response to the EPA letter, “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. The Postal Service is certainly 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,” she added.

Translation: “We would do this in a heartbeat if we had the money, but we don’t because Congress has tied our hands with burdensome fiscal restraints. And thanks to alleged Senator Joe Manchin, the funding to do this isn’t available. So kick and scream all you want. No money, no EVs. Simple as that.”

Will The Courts Decide?

The White House is making threatening noises about suing to invalidate the contract with Oshkosh Defense on the grounds that it was based on a flawed environmental assessment. Brenda Mallory, chair of the White House Council on Environmental Quality, told Postmaster General Mike DeJoy in a letter Wednesday that she has “grave concerns” about the environmental review his agency conducted. As an independent agency, USPS is subject to the National Environmental Policy Act and could face legal recourse from Congress or the courts if it makes a decision that is not “grounded on sound legal footing,″ Mallory said. (It could also be invalidated on the grounds that the vehicles Oshkosh Defense is planning to build are flat out ugly.)

The USPS Union Furor

There is never any lack of controversy when it comes to the USPS. The Biden administration has tied itself into knots trying to suck up to please labor unions in general, and the United Auto Workers in particular. Oshkosh Defense is based in Wisconsin, where its vehicles are built by UAW members. But now, Oshkosh Defense is saying it intends to produce the next era delivery vehicles for USPS in an abandoned Rite Aid warehouse in Spartanburg, South Carolina, one of the least union-friendly states in the nation. The people of Wisconsin are not amused.

According to The Guardian, John Bryant, president of Oshkosh Defense, said in a statement that Spartanburg “has a skilled workforce and a proven history in advanced automotive manufacturing.” (BMW has an assembly plant there.) “We evaluated sites in multiple states, including Wisconsin, for production of the [Next Generation Delivery Vehicle]. The Spartanburg, South Carolina, facility ranked highest in meeting the requirements of the NGDV program and gives us the best ability to meet the needs of the USPS.”

For its part, the USPS is taking a neutral position in the fracas. Its spokesperson says, “We remain committed to modernizing our delivery fleet in service to our customers. The NGDVs will be manufactured in the United States, which is consistent with the terms of the Postal Service’s contract with Oshkosh Defense.”

The Takeaway

The fight about what the next delivery vehicles for the USPS will be is important. The last-generation trucks are up to 30 years old, which means the next-generation vehicles will be still delivering the mail in 2050. Using gasoline-powered vehicles to deliver the mail for the next three decades is beyond stupid. It is grossly negligent. But politics cares little about such trifles.

When Covid hit, Elon Musk was quick to say Tesla would start manufacturing respirators. What a master stroke it would be if he stepped up and said, “Mr. President, Tesla will build battery-electric trucks for the postal service and for any other company that needs zero emissions vehicles. They will be built in America by American workers using American parts and American-made batteries. Here’s my direct phone number. Call me.”

Biden’s rather transparent bromance with the UAW is not working. Sadly — and I say this as the product of a staunchly pro-union upbringing — the labor movement in America is on life support and doesn’t command enough support to get any Democrats elected this year or any other year. Time to drop the charade and deal with reality. Pick up the phone, Mr. President. Call Elon and let’s get moving forward on a plan to move the EV revolution in America forward in a dramatic and meaningful way.

 
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Written By

Steve writes about the interface between technology and sustainability from his home in Florida or anywhere else the Singularity may lead him. You can follow him on Twitter but not on any social media platforms run by evil overlords like Facebook.

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