USPS gets final signoff to order new delivery vehicles

Only 10% of the vehicles will be electric-powered

U.S. Postal Service carrier John Graham packs his mail bag after parking a 28-year-old delivery truck, Wednesday, July 14, 2021, in Portland, Maine. The Postal Services aging fleet of trucks is soldiering on even as a contract for greener replacement vehicles is being challenged. The primary fleet of vehicles that were delivered starting in 1987 is due to be replaced under a new contract, but the winning bid is being challenged. (AP Photo/Robert F. Bukaty) (Robert F. Bukaty, Copyright 2021 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.)

The U.S. Postal Service said Wednesday it cleared the final regulatory hurdle to placing orders for next-generation mail vehicles — and getting some of them on delivery routes next year — despite pushback from the Environmental Protection Agency.

Postmaster General Louis DeJoy said the completion of an evaluation required by the National Environmental Policy Act is an important milestone for postal carriers, who have soldiered on with overworked delivery trucks that went into service between 1987 to 1994.

The U.S. Postal Service’s fleet comprises more than 230,000 vehicles. That includes 190,000 local delivery vehicles — and more than 141,000 are the older vehicles, made by federal contractor Grumman.

“The men and women of the U.S. Postal Service have waited long enough for safer, cleaner vehicles,” DeJoy said in a statement.

Environmental groups have pushed back because only 10% of the vehicles would be electric-powered under the Postal Service contract with the manufacturer, Wisconsin-based Oshkosh Defense.

The decision published in the Federal Register allows the Postal Service to proceed with placing the first order that will include at least 5,000 electric-powered vehicles, along with an undetermined number of gas-powered vehicles, Postal Service spokesperson Kim Frum said.

The Postal Service believes it has met all its obligations and is moving forward despite criticism by the Environmental Protection Agency over the adequacy of the environmental review.

“After signing the contract to procure these vehicles one year ago, the Postal Service conducted a fundamentally flawed environmental analysis that underestimates the costs of gasoline-fueled vehicles and overestimates the costs associated with electric vehicles,” Vicki Arroyo, EPA's associate administrator for policy, said Wednesday in a statement.

Brenda Mallory, chair of the White House’s Council on Environmental Quality, criticized the Postal Service as “out of touch" with technology, putting itself at a disadvantage compared to competitors.

Environmental groups joined in the criticism.

“Neither rain, nor sleet, nor financial good sense will stop the leaders of the U.S. Postal Service from trying to buy dirty, polluting delivery trucks," Patricio Portillo of the Natural Resources Defense Council said Wednesday.

But DeJoy, an ally of former President Donald Trump, said more of the electric vehicles can be purchased under the contract if additional funding "from either internal or congressional sources becomes available.”

It would cost an extra $3.3 billion to convert the entire Postal Service fleet to electric vehicles. Money is included in Biden’s Build Back Better plan, but that proposal remains stalled in Congress.

The new vehicles are more environmentally friendly and boast modern amenities like climate control and safety features like air bags, backup cameras and collision avoidance — all currently lacking on the aging Grumman vehicles.

The vehicles are also taller to make it easier for postal carriers to grab packages and parcels that have been making up a far greater portion of their deliveries, even before the pandemic.

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Sharp reported from Portland, Maine. Associated Press writer Matthew Daly in Washington contributed to this report.