WASHINGTON (AP) – Democrats in the House oversight committee are seeking an investigation into a U.S. Postal Service plan to replace its aging mail vans with mostly gasoline-powered vehicles.
The plan largely ignores calls from the White House to rebuild the postal service fleet of electric vehicles and has drawn sharp criticism from the Biden administration, Democratic lawmakers and environmentalists who say it does not live up to President Joe Biden’s goal of tackling climate change.
In a letter Monday, Democrats in the oversight panel asked the agency’s inspector general to investigate whether the Postal Service complied with the National Environmental Policy Act and other laws when they awarded a 10-year contract to Wisconsin-based Oshkosh Defense to deliver up to 165,000 new mail vans.
Only 10% of the original order will be for electric cars; the remaining 90% will use traditional petrol engines.
The Environmental Protection Agency, the White House Council on Environmental Quality and “many environmental stakeholders” have raised concerns that the postal service was not meeting its NEPA obligations by issuing the contract, lawmakers said in a letter to Tammy Whitcomb, the postal inspector. general.
“Given the significant public interest in this acquisition and the significant shortcomings” in the environmental analysis identified by the EPA and the White House, “it is crucial that Congress understands whether the postal service fulfilled its statutory environmental obligations correctly,” the lawmakers wrote.
The letter is signed by five Democratic lawmakers, including Rep. Carolyn Maloney of New York, chair of the panel, and Gerry Connolly of Virginia, chair of a subcommittee on government operations.
Lawmakers said they strongly support the purchase of electric vehicles for the Navy and said it would “significantly reduce emissions and place the Post Office as an environmental leader” in the United States.
A spokeswoman said the inspector general’s office received the letter on Monday and was reviewing it.
The postal service awarded Oshkosh Defense a contract worth up to $ 11 billion over 10 years to replace its fleet of 230,000 vehicles. The company has said it will make Next Generation Delivery Vehicles at a reconfigured warehouse in South Carolina, which will create 1,000 new jobs.
The postal service said last month that it believes it has fulfilled all its obligations and is moving forward despite widespread criticism.
The agency “carefully reviewed and incorporated feedback” from the EPA and the White House regarding the new contract and believes that “there is no legal or other basis for delaying the (car replacement) program,” said spokeswoman Kim Frum.
The new contract will provide 5,000 electric vehicles beginning in 2023 and “provides significant environmental benefits through the introduction of safer and more environmentally friendly vehicles,” Frum said. Flexibility built into the contract allows for more electric vehicles “if additional funding becomes available,” she added.
In their letter, lawmakers cited a host of concerns raised by the EPA, including allegations that the contract was awarded before the environmental review was completed and that the postal service omitted important data on climate change and other issues upon completion of the review.
The USPS review “underestimates greenhouse gas emissions” from the new fleet, “fails to consider more environmentally protective feasible alternatives and does not adequately address societal impacts on environmental justice,” the EPA said in a letter Feb. 2.
The EPA called the proposal “a crucial lost opportunity to more quickly reduce the CO2 footprint of one of the largest public fleets in the world.” The postal service fleet comprises more than 230,000 vehicles, nearly a third of the federal government’s total fleet.
The new vehicles are greener than current models, which have been in use for three decades or more, but most will be powered by gasoline.
An electrified fleet would save about 135 million gallons of fuel a year, said Adrian Martinez, a lawyer for the Earthjustice environmental group, who has called on the Biden administration to force the postal service to suspend or delay the contract and develop a more environmentally friendly plan.
Postmaster General Louis DeJoy, a Republican donor and ally of former President Donald Trump, has said that 10% EV production is the best thing the postal service can do, given its “deep economic situation”. An additional $ 3.3 billion would be needed to convert the entire USPS fleet to battery-powered electricity, DeJoy said.
The postal service’s decision is contrary to Biden’s goal of converting all federal government vehicles to zero-emission models by 2035. The postal service is controlled by a governing body and does not accept orders from the president. Biden has nominated two people to serve on the board, but they have not been confirmed, leaving the panel under the control of a Republican president, Roman Martinez.