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Senate calls USPS bluff with $3 billion for electric trucks – will it go 100% BEV?

The US Senate has allocated $3 billion in additional funding to the US Postal Service for electrification of the nation’s delivery fleet, as part of yesterday’s massive climate bill. It’s the latest move in the long saga for postal service electrification and effectively “calls USPS’s bluff” by supplying as much funding as the USPS claimed a 100% BEV fleet would cost.

Update: USPS responded to our questions, which we’ve included at the end of the article.

For years now, people have been calling for the USPS to electrify the delivery fleet. The nation’s gas-powered Grumman LLVs have been in service for more than 30 years now and desperately need an update.

Electric vehicles are perfect for mail delivery in many ways, providing quiet and clean operation to reduce disruption to neighborhoods, regenerative braking for constant stop-and-go driving, high low-end torque for heavy loads, and no need to idle while stationary. Electric vehicles are also cheaper to run and maintain, which is important for a massive fleet of hundreds of thousands of vehicles.

Finally, and most importantly, electric trucks produce fewer global warming emissions, which is necessary to combat the climate crisis we are currently facing.

How we got here

When President Biden was elected, he vowed within the first few days to electrify the entire federal fleet – including all post office vehicles. But technically he’s not in control of the USPS, that responsibility falls to Postmaster Louis DeJoy, who was appointed under Mr. Trump.

Only a month later, the USPS released its first electrification plan, which included a disappointing commitment to purchase only 10% electric vehicles from Oshkosh, a defense contractor, with the remainder of their new “Next-Generation Delivery Vehicles” (NGDVs) being 8.6-mpg gas guzzlers.

Since then, electrification advocates (including the Electrek staff) have expressed disappointment with and raised questions about these plans, including opposition from the EPA and White House, Democrats on the House Oversight Committee and a flurry of lawsuits by states, environmental organizations, and the UAW.

This pressure resulted in the USPS doubling its order to 20% and then doubling it again to at least 40% just last month – but it’s still planning to buy mostly inefficient gas trucks.

In its final record of decision in February, the USPS attempted to justify its decision by claiming that it simply did not have the money for electrification, despite potential big savings due to lower energy costs for electric vehicles and recent House actions to relieve the USPS of tens of billions in debt obligations.

Senate calls USPS’s bluff

In its decision, the USPS (though with a few uncharitable assumptions) claimed it would cost $3.3 billion more in upfront costs to convert the fleet to 100% BEV instead of 90% ICE – which almost perfectly matches the $3 billion allocated by the new Senate bill. And given that the USPS has already committed to 40% BEV, the cost differential (per USPS analysis) is likely even smaller.

The allocation is split into two legs, with $1.29 billion for purchasing electric trucks and $1.71 billion for upgrading BEV support infrastructure at USPS offices.

This leads us to the question – will the USPS announce a 100% BEV plan? In its record of decision, it did leave the door open to increasing the BEV mix. The document called several times for additional funding, stating that the USPS would increase its BEV mix if more funding became available.

At the time, we questioned the motivation behind those words, particularly due to DeJoy’s history of corruption. But since then, USPS has increased its order, with at least 40% of its first order consisting of BEV trucks.

So the USPS does seem open to increasing its BEV percentage – and now that it’s been given the amount of money it was asking for, we see little reason not to up the order to (nearly) 100% BEV.

So far, the USPS has not reacted to the bill. It hasn’t been passed by the House (though is expected to) and hasn’t been signed by the President (though, if it crosses his desk, he will sign it). We’ve reached out to the USPS for comment, but we don’t expect it to announce anything right away. We will update you if it does.

Update: We reached out to USPS, and it responded with a statement about their future plans

As announced in our July 20 statement, based on improvements in operational, technology and financial circumstances we expect the electric portion of our fleet to evolve upward.  We have been monitoring the interest of Congress in funding electrification and should funding be enacted we will assess the impact on our plans. 

While this is about as non-committal as we expected, particularly considering the bill hasn’t passed yet, it actually sounds quite positive. To me, it reads like USPS is “saying it without saying it” – it’s thinking about going more electric, that decision is dependent on funding, and it’s ready to assess the impact of new funding on its plans.

So it’s not a commitment to 100% BEV (and let’s be honest, there will probably be a few weird routes which are not best served by BEV at this current time, but a good 90-95%+ could – after all, Svalbard did it), but it sounds hopeful that we could see another upping of BEV commitment after everything shakes out.

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Avatar for Jameson Dow Jameson Dow

Jameson has been driving electric vehicles since 2009, and has been writing about them and about clean energy for since 2016.

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