U.S. Postmaster General Louis DeJoy has been reluctant to commit to an all-electric Postal Service delivery fleet, but leading electric vehicle stakeholders are beginning to apply some pressure. In the latest development, the Ford Motor Co. has supported a new study that underscores the benefits of 100 percent fleet electrification for the USPS.
Amazon, UPS, Walmart and many other leaders in the delivery field are beginning to organize in support of fleet electrification now that costs have fallen and battery range has improved.
That provides the U.S. Postal Service with an opportunity to position itself as a leader in the movement. The agency is still using tens of thousands of aging delivery vehicles that fail to meet modern standards of safety, comfort and efficiency. They must be replaced, and soon.
Nevertheless, last year DeJoy introduced a new fleet replacement plan that called for just 10 percent electric vehicles.
DeJoy cited the relatively high upfront cost of electric vehicles in his decision. However, studies show that the lifetime costs of electric drive are lower than for internal combustion engines, including maintenance and repair as well as fuel.
In response to DeJoy’s 10 percent EV cap, Congress began discussing additional funding for new Postal Service vehicles earlier this year. That appeared to move the needle, and DeJoy bumped his EV pledge up to 40 percent. However, the new commitment would still leave the Postal Service tethered to a new, long-term investment in thousands of fossil-burning vehicles.
The newly signed Inflation Reduction Act of 2022 could make a difference. It provides $3 billion to cut emissions from the U.S. Postal Service fleet. That includes $1.29 billion toward vehicle purchases and $1.71 billion for infrastructure support.
If DeJoy continues to balk despite the increased funding, EV stakeholders are ready with new evidence for the benefits of a zero-emission fleet in terms of reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
EV advocates have already pointed out serious flaws in the environmental analysis used by DeJoy to justify the Postal Service’s initial 10 percent EV commitment.
The new study builds on those findings. It was published last month, under the title “Life Cycle Greenhouse Gas Emissions of the USPS Next Generation Delivery Vehicle Fleet,” in the journal Environmental Science & Technology, a publication of the American Chemistry Society. The research was supported by an award from the Ford-University of Michigan Alliance Project as well as support from the Responsible Battery Coalition. Additional support came from the University of Michigan School for Environment and Sustainability.
The wide-ranging study has much to say about shortcomings in the Postal Service’s methodology. Unlike the Postal Service, the U-M team conducted a cradle-to-grave lifecycle assessment of greenhouse gas emissions for a 100 percent EV fleet compared to the 10 percent scenario. Specifically, the U-M team noted that the Postal Service’s limited analysis failed to account for the ongoing decarbonization of the U.S. electric grid, and it failed to account for ongoing improvements in EV technology.
“When anticipated improvements to electric vehicles and future electrical-grid decarbonization are factored in, a fully electric USPS delivery fleet would result in up to 63 percent lower greenhouse gas emissions than the [Postal Service] estimated, over the lifetime of the fleet,” U-M reported.
“Our paper highlights the fact that the USPS analysis is significantly flawed, which led them to dramatically underestimate the benefits of [battery electric vehicles], which could have impacted their decision-making process," said lead author Maxwell Woody.
The U-M study also took a close look at the Postal Service’s cost comparison analysis. As described by the U-M team, the Postal Service anticipated a savings of $3.3 billion for fleet replacement with 90 percent conventional vehicles. However, U-M charged that the Postal Service failed to account for the “climate and public health damages associated with continued use of fossil fuel-powered vehicles.”
Those damages have come to the fore in recent months, as the U.S. suffered through its third-hottest summer in 128 years.
If the U-M study does not convince DeJoy to up the ante on electric delivery vehicles, other EV stakeholders have been sharpening their legal swords.
In April, 16 state attorneys-general filed a lawsuit over DeJoy’s fleet replacement plans, charging that the agency failed to conduct an environmental analysis in a timely manner. The Center for Biological Diversity, Earthjustice, CleanAirNow KC and Sierra Club joined together in another lawsuit. The Natural Resources Defense Council and United Auto Workers also filed a suit of their own.
Meanwhile, DeJoy has defended his EV strategy. In a presentation to the Postal Service Board of Governors on August 9, he stated, “The progress we have been making in improving our financial condition as well as our developing future operating strategy has enabled us to increase our commitment to electric vehicles consistent with our delivery vehicle strategy.”
DeJoy also suggested that the Postal Service will continue to incorporate more flexibility into its fleet replacement plan. However, he issued a veiled warning against outside interference. “I am confident that we have the best, and only, team in the nation solely focused on understanding the needs of the Postal Service,” he said.
It appears that Ford, for one, did not get the memo.
Other EV manufacturers and suppliers may also have something to say about the Postal Service and its needs as the fleet electrification movement continues to grow, whether DeJoy invites their comments or not.
Tina writes frequently for TriplePundit and other websites, with a focus on military, government and corporate sustainability, clean tech research and emerging energy technologies. She is a former Deputy Director of Public Affairs of the New York City Department of Environmental Protection, and author of books and articles on recycling and other conservation themes. She is currently Deputy Director of Public Information for the County of Union, New Jersey. Views expressed here are her own and do not necessarily reflect agency policy.