This story was updated Jan. 12.
The U.S. Postal Service, which has been criticized for its plan to buy tens of thousands of gas-burning delivery trucks, estimates that it could in fact go all-electric if Congress gives it at least $3.3 billion.
That is one of the conclusions of a final environmental impact statement that the semi-independent agency released on Friday.
At issue is the Next Generation Delivery Vehicle, a truck that the service plans to start using over the next decade. During that time, USPS plans to replace up to 165,000 trucks of its 212,000-strong fleet. One of the world’s largest civilian fleets is falling into disrepair, with most of the trucks having been put into service before Bill Clinton became president.
Early last year, USPS set a course to have almost all of the vehicles run on gasoline, with 10 percent set aside as electric. In August, the Postal Service said electric versions of new mail trucks would have higher costs and were "unfeasible and impractical" for the service’s longest routes (Energywire, Aug. 27, 2021).
That plan angered some congressional Democrats who said it countered President Biden’s goal of converting the federal vehicle fleet to electric, thus stimulating the market for EVs and helping to turn the tide on climate change. In December, Biden issued an executive order asking the U.S. government to buy only EVs by 2035.
The new USPS document, in essence, defended the service’s decision while saying the electrification goal is in reach if Congress gives USPS a lot more money.
"The Proposed Action is the most achievable given the Postal Service’s financial condition," USPS said in the statement. The service has experienced losses of more than $87 billion since 2007, according to the Government Accountability Office, as the volume of mail it delivers has dropped.
The agency estimated that it could electrify 75,000 of its vehicles for $2.3 billion. It added that the entire fleet could be electrified with the additional expense of more than $1 billion. USPS seemed warm to the possibility, saying that it “is seeking additional funding to increase this quantity.”
The Democrats’ "Build Back Better Act," which faces an uncertain fate in Congress, could go a long way toward providing those funds. The version of the bill passed in the House in November included $2.5 billion for USPS to buy electric vehicles and another $3.4 billion for charging infrastructure at postal buildings. The bill’s scope is shrinking as it is negotiated in the Senate.
The EIS compared the climate impact of its preferred 10 percent plan versus an all-electric fleet. A future mail fleet made up of only 10 percent EVs would reduce direct yearly tailpipe CO2 emissions by almost 257,000 metric tons. Going all-electric would more than double that, to 537,000 metric tons.
Patricio Portillo, a transportation analyst at the Natural Resources Defense Council, said it is hard to evaluate USPS’s dollar request because the new analysis offered little supporting data.
He characterized it as “We’re just going to wave our hand and say it’s really expensive.” “It doesn’t seem they’ve done their homework," he said.
A study in August by Atlas Public Policy estimated that 97 percent of USPS vehicles could be electrified at a lower total cost of ownership than that of comparable gas or diesel trucks by 2025.
The USPS environmental study came to the opposite conclusion, saying that an EV mail truck “has a significantly higher total cost of ownership” than an internal-combustion one.
One of the main costs it saw was building charging infrastructure at some of its more than 17,000 locations. The problems include urban sites, such as mail offices in strip malls that don’t have much parking space, and rural areas, where the robust electric power lines needed to charge vehicles might not exist. In many situations, the local electric infrastructure, like transformers, would need upgrades.
Portillo pointed out that the EIS offered little detail on one of the major potential cost savings of an electric vehicle: maintenance. Compared with internal-combustion engine vehicles, EVs are simpler machines that have fewer parts to break or replace. The analysis said only that EVs would cost less because they “would require less lubricants, oils, and greases.”
The mail agency’s truck-replacement push is occurring as the country’s major doorstep-delivery companies are turning toward electric vehicles.
Amazon.com Inc. has partnered with Rivian Automotive Inc. and Stellantis NV to build tens of thousands of electric delivery trucks. Just last week, Walmart Inc. said it would partner with General Motors Co., through its electric subsidiary BrightDrop, to deliver its goods.
USPS awarded the contract for its Next Generation Delivery Vehicle to Oshkosh Defense, which said in June that it would build a dedicated factory in South Carolina.
Oshkosh Defense has no prior experience building electric vehicles, though another parts of Oshkosh have developed hybrid-electric fire trucks and a prototype of an electric cement mixer.