USPS ups electric truck order to 40% of its new fleet

Critics say the Postal Service should be buying far more electric vehicles, but the new plan is a big jump over the previous order of just 10% EVs.

Postal workers load mail into mail trucks
(Al Seib/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)
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The U.S. Postal Service is boosting its electric-vehicle ambitions yet again, after initial plans to replace the nation’s aging mail fleet with mostly gas-powered trucks drew public backlash and legal challenges.

On Wednesday, the Postal Service said it expects to electrify at least 40 percent of its new delivery fleet, up from its original pledge of 10 percent. Critics have argued that putting more fossil-fueled trucks on the road would undermine the broader U.S. effort to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and harmful air pollution from the transportation sector.

The Postal Service reiterates its commitment to the fiscally responsible roll-out of electric-powered vehicles for America’s largest and oldest federal fleet,” the agency said in its announcement.

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The saga unfolding around the fate of America’s mail trucks began last year, when the Postal Service announced plans to order up to 165,000 new delivery vehicles — with around 90 percent of those expected to burn gas in internal combustion engines. 

The independent federal agency also signed a 10-year contract with Wisconsin-based manufacturer Oshkosh Defense. At first, the plan was to buy just 5,000 battery-powered trucks in the initial purchase order. In March, however, the Postal Service raised the number to 10,000 electric trucks, plus another 40,000 gas-guzzlers, in the $2.98 billion deal.

But even doubling its EV order wasn’t enough to quell critics. In late April, environmental groups, an autoworker union and a coalition of state attorneys general filed separate lawsuits seeking to force the Postal Service to scrap its $11.3 billion mail-truck purchase plan and start from scratch. The plaintiffs claimed the agency didn’t follow proper legal steps in its environmental review process.

The massive amount of pressure that people have been putting on [USPS] has really started to resonate with them,” Adrian Martinez, a senior attorney for Earthjustice, one of the organizations bringing suit, told Canary Media.

The plan announced on Wednesday differs from the Postal Service’s original vision.

Of the 50,000 Oshkosh trucks already on order, now at least 25,000 will be electric. The agency said it will also order 34,500 commercial off-the-shelf” vehicles. In total, the Postal Service will purchase 84,500 new mail trucks, of which at least 40 percent will run on batteries.

The Postal Service didn’t elaborate on which off-the-shelf vehicles it might consider. However, the options for battery-powered vans and trucks continue to expand, while the costs of buying, operating and charging vehicles are steadily declining. Private parcel carrier UPS recently placed an order for 10,000 electric delivery vans made by British startup Arrival. Earlier this month, Walmart signed an agreement to buy 4,500 electric delivery vehicles from California-based startup Canoo.

All told, nearly 200 commercial vehicle fleets in the United States have deployed, or committed to deploy, battery-powered and other kinds of zero-emissions trucks, according to a new analysis by the Environmental Defense Fund. That represents a nearly 1,100 percent increase in zero-emissions fleet deployments and commitments from five years ago.

Martinez said the Postal Service could go even further when it comes to curbing emissions from the nation’s mail-truck fleet. They’ve really been resistant to going full-on [with] addressing the clean air and climate pollution problems,” he said, noting that the lawsuits are still pending. 

We hope we can get more progress,” he added.

Maria Gallucci is a clean energy reporter at Canary Media, where she covers hard-to-decarbonize sectors and efforts to make the energy transition more affordable and equitable.