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These new lawsuits allege USPS broke the law with its plan to buy gas-guzzling trucks

Sixteen states and two cities are suing the U.S. Postal Service over its plan to buy as many as 148,000 new gas trucks.

These new lawsuits allege USPS broke the law with its plan to buy gas-guzzling trucks
[Image: USPS]

Mail delivery trucks seem ideally suited to run on electricity: They travel on relatively short routes, can charge at night, and make frequent stops that can recharge the battery through regenerative braking. One analysis suggests that the U.S. Postal Service could save billions over the lifetime of its vehicles by replacing gas trucks with electric. But in February, the USPS announced that it was moving forward with an $11 billion plan to replace its aging vehicles with mostly fossil-powered trucks.

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In three new lawsuits filed Thursday morning, multiple states and nonprofits argue that the Postal Service violated the National Environmental Policy Act when it made the decision to purchase as many as 148,000 new gas trucks. “The Postal Service has a historic opportunity to invest in our planet and in our future,” Rob Bonta, attorney general of California, said in a statement. “Instead, it is doubling down on outdated technologies that are bad for our environment and bad for our communities.”

California was joined by Connecticut, Delaware, the District of Columbia, Illinois, Maine, Maryland, Michigan, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, and Washington on the lawsuit, along with the City of New York and the Bay Area Air Quality Management District. The nonprofit Earthjustice also filed a lawsuit with the Center for Biological Diversity, and Natural Resources Defense Council and United Auto Workers filed a separate lawsuit.

The National Environmental Policy Act required that the agency do an environmental review—but the lawsuits explain that USPS signed a contract, and spent years evaluating prototypes, before beginning that analysis. The lawsuits also argue that when the analysis finally happened, it was incomplete, misleading, and biased against cleaner vehicles, with flawed estimates of cost and other factors.

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“This is such a big decision—as one of the largest civilian fleets in the world, purchasing gas-guzzling vehicles for the next decade, the consequences are really high,” says Adrian Martinez, a senior attorney at Earthjustice. “That’s why we’re taking them to court to try to overturn this bad decision.” Between 2018 and 2020, USPS trucks emitted 1.7 million metric tons of CO2. The trucks make up a third of the federal fleet, which the Biden administration wants to shift to electric vehicles—but the USPS is a quasi-independent agency and made its decision without Biden’s support. The current trucks have been in use for decades, and it’s likely that the next generation of vehicles will also be around for decades.

The new mail trucks will be ordered in phases, with the first to be delivered in 2023. “Depending on how quickly the case moves, it could impact that order,” Martinez says. “And compliance with the National Environmental Policy Act was specifically written into the contract for these vehicles. So the contractor who’s making the vehicle knows that there is a failure to comply with federal law, like the National Environmental Policy Act, that could throw the order into jeopardy.”

The USPS relied on faulty assumptions in its environmental analysis, Earthjustice’s lawsuit alleges, including underestimating how far an EV battery could travel on a charge, and overestimating the cost of those batteries (the agency also based its cost comparison on gas at $2.19 per gallon; the average cost of gas is now over $4 a gallon). USPS has argued that it would need more funding to buy more electric vehicles, but its math may be wrong. The lawsuit says that USPS also miscalculated the emissions impact of the new trucks and didn’t consider air quality impacts or environmental justice.

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In an emailed statement to Fast Company, a spokesperson for USPS wrote that the agency “fully complied with all of our obligations under NEPA” in its procurement of a new fleet, which included the purchase of roughly 10,000 battery-powered vehicles. The spokesperson also denied the claim that electric vehicles are more cost effective than gas-powered trucks. “We will continue to look for opportunities to increase the electrification of our delivery fleet in a responsible manner, consistent with our operating strategy, the deployment of appropriate infrastructure, and our financial condition, which we expect to continue to improve as we pursue our plan,” the spokesperson said.

In February, the Environmental Protection Agency sent a letter to USPS criticizing its analysis. Earlier this month, in a panel before the House Oversight and Reform Committee, lawmakers grilled USPS on its plans. But the lawsuits may be the last chance to force the agency to change course. The EPA “highlighted some serious flaws in the Postal Service’s analysis, and the Postal Service just ignored them outright,” Martinez says. “And so I think we’re at the stage where groups are going to have to rely on litigation to try to overturn this wrongheaded decision by the Postal Service.”

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About the author

Adele Peters is a staff writer at Fast Company who focuses on solutions to some of the world's largest problems, from climate change to homelessness. Previously, she worked with GOOD, BioLite, and the Sustainable Products and Solutions program at UC Berkeley

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