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Sixteen states sue the Postal Service over plan to buy gas-powered vehicles

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United States Postal Service (USPS) workers load mail into delivery trucks outside a post office in Royal Oak, Michigan, August 22, 2020.
Rebecca Cook | Reuters

Sixteen states on Thursday sued the U.S. Postal Service over its plan to replace its aging delivery fleet with thousands of gas-powered delivery vehicles over the next decade, alleging that the agency hasn’t adequately accounted for the environmental harm of the vehicles. They were joined by several other government agencies, and environmental and labor groups.

The lawsuits argue that the Postal Service’s environmental analysis to justify spending up to $11.3 billion on the gas trucks, which only get 8.6 miles per gallon, was deeply flawed.

The Postal Service has about 230,000 vehicles, making up about one-third of the country’s entire federal fleet. Its plan to buy gas trucks would blunt President Joe Biden’s pledge to replace the federal fleet of 600,000 cars and trucks to electric power and cut the government’s carbon emissions by 65% by 2030. The administration has pledged to slash U.S. greenhouse gas emissions nearly in half by the end of the decade and transition the economy to net-zero emissions by 2050.

In February, the EPA and the White House Council on Environmental Quality urged the Postal Service to conduct an updated and more detailed technical analysis and hold a public hearing on its plan.

However, the Postal Service later that month completed a final regulatory requirement that would allow it to take delivery of the first of the new vehicles next year. The agency’s plan converts only 10% of its new trucks to electric power, far below pledges from Amazon and UPS, which have large delivery fleets.

The lawsuit alleges the plan violated the National Environmental Policy Act and should be set aside. The suit argues that the Postal Service’s gas vehicles would stop states from achieving their own climate change pledges.

“The Postal Service has a historic opportunity to invest in our planet and in our future,” California Attorney General Rob Bonta said in a statement. “Instead, it is doubling down on outdated technologies that are bad for our environment and bad for our communities.”

“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,” Bonta said. “There won’t be a reset button.”

Despite the rise in electric vehicles sales in recent years, the transportation sector is one of the largest contributors to the country’s greenhouse gas emissions, representing about one-third of total emissions every year.

Postal Service spokesperson Kim Frum said the agency “conducted a robust and thorough review and fully complied with all of our obligations under NEPA.”

“We must make fiscally prudent decisions in the needed introduction of a new vehicle fleet,” Frum wrote in an email. “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.”

Joining the state of California in the lawsuit are the attorneys general of 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; as well as the City of New York and the Bay Area Air Quality Management District.

Two separate lawsuits were filed by environmental groups CleanAirNow, the Center for Biological Diversity and the Sierra Club, with legal representation from Earthjustice; and by the Natural Resources Defense Council with the United Auto Workers.

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