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New fleet of gas-guzzling mail trucks spurs trio of suits

New fleet of gas-guzzling mail trucks spurs trio of suits

Next generation of Postal vehicles would have worse fuel economy than a gas-powered Ford F-150

  • Sam LaRussa/CC BY 2.0

Three lawsuits filed Thursday in New York and California call it urgent for the government to study the environmental toll that will occur if the U.S. Postal Service rolls out its new fleet of mail-delivery trucks.

Trump-appointed U.S. Postal Service Inspector General Louis DeJoy announced the 10-year plan earlier this year in a contract award to Wisconsin-based Oshkosh Defense. Aiming to have just 10% of the service’s next fleet of 165,000 delivery vehicles be electric, the plan states the rest of the mail trucks it buys will be outfitted with gasoline-fueled engines.

Based on financial outlook and strategic considerations, the Postal Service contends more electric vehicles can be purchased later.

Sixteen states, New York City, four environmental groups and the United Auto Workers union filed three separate civil complaints on Thursday, calling on federal courts to intervene and throw out the fossil fuel-dependent vehicle plan under the National Environmental Policy Act.

A coalition of environmentalist groups allege in one of the suits that the Postal Service based its plan on undisclosed and unsupported assumptions about what gas-powered vehicles do to the environment, as well as the cost of buying and operating electric vehicles.

Earthjustice, CleanAirNow KC, the Sierra Club and the Center for Biological Diversity brought their civil complaint in the Northern District of California. They say the proposed 90% of the new trucks would be combustion vehicles with a worse fuel economy than a gas-powered Ford F-150 and worse mileage than the classic model when the Grumman postal truck was first introduced in 1988.

“The Postal Service’s plan to purchase thousands of combustion mail trucks will not only deliver pollution to every neighborhood in America, it’s also unlawful,” said Adrian Martinez, senior attorney on Earthjustice’s Right to Zero campaign. “DeJoy’s environmental process was so rickety and riddled with error that it failed to meet the basic standards of the National Environmental Policy Act. We’re going to court to protect the millions of Americans breathing in neighborhoods overburdened with tailpipe pollution.”

The attorneys general of New York and California brought another challenge to the Postal Service’s vehicle plan, also in the Northern District of California. They are joined by Connecticut, Delaware, Illinois, Maine, Maryland, Michigan, New Jersey, New Mexico, North Carolina, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, Washington, New York City and the District of Columbia, as well as the Bay Area Air Quality Management District.

The coalition of states argue that the Final Environmental Impact Statement released by the Postal Service violated NEPA and should be set aside. They say the agency disregarded well-established legal precedent by signing purchase contracts with a defense contractor before releasing a draft of the environmental review, that the Postal Service failed to recognize reasonable alternatives to its proposed action, and that it arbitrarily rejected any consideration of vehicle fleets with a greater percentage of electric vehicles.

The Postal Service, meanwhile, defended its decision on Thursday, affirming through a spokesperson that the agency had conducted “a robust and thorough review and fully complied” with its obligations under the National Environmental Policy Act. The service remains fully committed to the inclusion of electric vehicles as a significant part of its delivery fleet, it said, “even though the investment will cost more than an internal combustion engine vehicle.”

“It’s important to note, the Postal Service placed its initial NGDV [next-generation delivery vehicle] delivery order on March 24 for 50,000 vehicles — a minimum of which will be for 10,019 battery electric vehicles,” Kim Frum, a spokesperson for Postal Service, said in a statement. “The contract is an indefinite delivery, indefinite quantity contract, meaning that after an initial dollar commitment, the Postal Service will have the ongoing ability to order more NGDV over a fixed period of time, in this case, 10 years delivering Up to 165,000 vehicles over the next decade.”

California Attorney General Rob Bonta said on Thursday that the lawsuit aims to ensure that the Postal Service complies with the law and considers more environmentally friendly alternatives before it replace its fleet of trucks.

“The Postal Service has a historic opportunity to invest in our planet and in our future. Instead, it is doubling down on outdated technologies that are bad for our environment and bad for our communities,” Bonta said in a statement. “Once this purchase goes through, we’ll be stuck with more than 100,000 new gas-guzzling vehicles on neighborhood streets, serving homes across our state and across the country, for the next 30 years. There won’t be a reset button.”

New York City has committed to reducing greenhouse gas emissions 80% below 2005 levels by 2050, and has issued numerous plans describing its path to achieving this goal — all of which call for increased electrification of the transportation sector.

“By failing to take the legally-required hard look at the environmental impacts of keeping its gas-powered fleet, the Postal Service arbitrarily rejected an option to convert to zero-emission electric vehicles,” New York City’s corporation counsel Sylvia Hinds-Radix said. “Our lawsuit seeks to reverse the Postal Service’s ill-conceived and unlawful decision which harms communities already overburdened by pollution and detracts from the city’s overall efforts to battle climate change and improve public health.”

A separate lawsuit brought was Thursday in the Southern District of New York, jointly filed by the Natural Resources Defense Council and the United Auto Workers.

“Let’s be frank: The Postal Service can save money and cut pollution by investing in electric trucks,” Britt Carmon, federal clean vehicles advocate at NRDC, said in a statement on Thursday. “The Postal Service must undertake the accurate and thorough environmental review it should have done the first time. Its error-filled, flimsy analysis should be returned to sender.”

Last month, House Democrats on the House Oversight Committee asked the Postal Service’s inspector general to investigate whether the agency complied with the National Environmental Policy Act and other laws when awarding a 10-year contract to Oshkosh Defense to supply up to 165,000 new mail trucks.

The new vehicles boast safety features like air bags, backup cameras and collision avoidance — all currently lacking on the Postal Service’s aging, signature Grumman trucks.

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