Rep. Carolyn B. Maloney (DN.Y.), who chaired a hearing in the House Oversight and Reform Committee, accused the postal service of ignoring “its responsibility to reduce the environmental impact of its fleet.” She said there was compelling evidence that the postal service made incorrect calculations in the decision to buy gas-powered trucks that get 8.6 miles per gallon – an improvement of 0.4 mpg compared to the current 30-year-old fleet – rather than battery-powered vehicles.
The hearing sparked efforts by congressional Democrats to pressure Postmaster General Louis DeJoy to convert his agency’s fleet to zero-emission trucks or to provide the agency with funding to buy cleaner vehicles.
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It could also provide potential courtroom opponents of the postal service with significant fodder for a legal challenge. The five-member panel in front of the committee included experts who took sworn testimonies that were critical of the postal service’s plans and justification. Environmental activist groups have been signaling for months that they could pose a legal challenge to the agency’s procurement, arguing that the postal service’s conclusions are based on erroneous assumptions.
“I will not give in until the postal service finally follows in the footsteps of the private sector and begins a real transition to an electric fleet,” Maloney said. “Going electric is imperative for our environment, for the postal service’s bottom line and for our national security.”
“We have learned a lot today about mistakes and inconsistencies that seem to go right to the heart of this unusual decision that is so at odds with what the private sector is doing,” the rep added. Jared Huffman (D-Calif.), One of Congress’ foremost proponents of climate law.
DeJoy placed the order for the first 50,000 replacement vehicles on March 24; 20 percent of this purchase was for electric vehicles, although the agency has promised to electrify only 10 percent of the vehicles purchased during the 10-year contract.
The Post Office’s plan is far from the White House’s goal of moving the entire federal civilian fleet to electric vehicles by 2035. The Post Office’s 217,000 vehicles make up the largest share of the government’s civilian vehicles.
Transportation is the largest single source of greenhouse gas emissions in the United States, and even rising sales of electric vehicles – which account for about 5 percent of new vehicle sales – have not yet made a significant dent in the automotive market. Proponents of electric cars had hoped the purchase of the postal service would give the industry a boost.
Victoria Stephen, head of the Post Office’s Next Generation Delivery Vehicles program, told the committee that the agency had purchased as many electric vehicles as its current financial conditions allow. The agency has $ 131 billion in unfunded liabilities – even after Congress passed legislation in March to relieve its $ 107 billion balance of overdue and future payments. President Biden will sign the bill on Wednesday.
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“We have deferred maintenance, we have deferred investment,” Stephen said. “It is not just vehicles that need to be replaced a long time ago. There are structural infrastructure-related things that are part of what the postal service requires to function effectively and over the coming decades. “
Politicians on both sides of the political aisle agree that the post office’s aging trucks are unsafe and need to be replaced. The fleet is 30 years old and has no airbags or air conditioning. The trucks are known to catch fire after many years of overconsumption.
The agency is also in the midst of DeJoy’s 10-year transformation plan to refocus the postal service on its growing parcel delivery business and eliminate years of financial losses.
But liberal lawmakers rejected that position, saying the agency’s private sector competitors Amazon, FedEx and UPS were already far ahead of the postal service in terms of fleet electrification. (Amazon founder Jeff Bezos owns The Washington Post.)
Stephen said comparisons with these companies were unjustified because mail vehicles require more stops and starts during their routes than competitors’ trucks.
Witness Joe Britton, CEO of the Zero Emission Transportation Association, said the driving cycle instead makes mail routes even more suitable for electric trucks.
“Starting and stopping, especially if you have strong regenerative braking, will give you greater range in city driving, especially in cases where you start and stop every 20 or 30 feet,” he said.
The Republicans in the committee tried to turn the hearing into a discussion of Hunter Biden, the president’s son, who in 2016 was involved in the sale of a Congolese cobalt mine to a Chinese conglomerate. Rep. James Comer (Ky.), The top Republican on the panel, invited Hunter Biden to testify; instead, Kenny Stein, political director at the right-wing Institute for Energy Research, testified at the GOP’s invitation.
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“When we talk about converting to electric vehicles, rare earth minerals are a crucial element in it,” Comer said, noting that U.S. domestic production of resources needed for vehicle batteries is far behind China’s.
Democrats pressured Stephen to pass records to the Post Office’s analysis committee on how many electric vehicles it will buy, and said they would try to insert funding for the electric trucks in future legislation.
The Biden administration’s original “Build Back Better” social spending package included $ 6 billion for electric mail vans and battery chargers. Biden’s budget proposal for 2023 includes $ 300 million for electric mail vehicles and charging stations.
“If the funding was made available to us, we would definitely adjust our plans,” Stephen said. “Our plans today reflect what we can afford with our own resources.”