WASHINGTON — Attorneys general from 16 states and the District of Columbia, along with five environmental groups and the United Auto Workers, filed a legal challenge Thursday against the United States Postal Service, alleging it broke the law when it ordered thousands of new mail. trucks powered by gasoline instead of electricity.
Together, the three lawsuits raise the stakes of a conflict over the climate impacts of the Postal Service’s iconic vans, which has kept the administration busy for months.
In February, a leading House Democrat, Gerald Connolly of Virginia, called for the resignation of Postmaster General Louis DeJoy, saying he was ignoring President Biden’s executive order to electrify the federal fleet by placing an order worth up to $6 billion over a 10-year period for primarily gasoline-powered trucks.
De Post-La Poste is an independent agency that is not bound by the government’s climate rules. It also owns more than 231,000 vehicles, one of the largest civilian fleets in the world. The contract would be the Post’s first large-scale purchase of vehicles in three decades.
Environmentalists said Mr. DeJoy of 165,000 gasoline-powered mail delivery trucks from Oshkosh Defense, a Wisconsin-based company that manufactures military vehicles, could harm the country’s efforts to fight climate change. The United Auto Workers said it is violating the president’s promise to pursue environmental policies that will boost union jobs as the new trucks are expected to be built in non-union factories.
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That criticism could have political ramifications for the president, who relied on the support of environmentalists and unionists to win the White House in 2020.
But the Democratic Attorneys General of California, New York, Delaware, Pennsylvania, Michigan, Illinois and 10 other states, as well as DC, said the move was also illegal.
In their file, the attorneys general wrote that the Postal Service violated the National Environmental Policy Act of 1970, which required it to consider the environmental impact of purchasing a vehicle.
“Instead, the postal service first chose a manufacturer with minimal experience in producing electric vehicles, signed a contract and made a significant down payment for new vehicles,” the attorneys general wrote. “With this, the postal service failed to meet even the most basic requirements of NEPA.”
A Postal Service spokeswoman Kimberly Frum said the claim was false. “The Postal Service has conducted a thorough and thorough assessment and fully met all of our commitments,” she wrote in an email.
Ms. Frum added that the decision to buy the gasoline-powered trucks, rather than more expensive electric trucks, also took into account the financial woes of the Postal Service, which currently has about $206.4 billion dollars in debt. Earlier this month, Biden signed a bipartisan bill that will alleviate some of that debt.
“The Postal Service is fully committed to including electric vehicles as an important part of our delivery fleet, even though the investment will cost more than a combustion engine vehicle. That said, as we have stated repeatedly, we need to make fiscally sensible decisions in the necessary introduction of a new fleet,” wrote Ms Frum.
The Postal Service estimated the new vehicles would hit 29.9 miles per gallon. A separate analysis by the EPA found that the vehicles were able to achieve less than half that: just 14.7 miles per gallon. And with the air conditioning in operation, the new trucks would only go 8.6 miles per gallon, the EPA said.
While mail delivery trucks make up only a small fraction of the roughly 280 million vehicles on the US road, environmental groups said the decision to order new gasoline-powered replacements could have ramifications. A fully electric fleet would not only bring environmental benefits and help an emerging manufacturing sector, but also serve as a powerful symbol of a government determined to accelerate the transition from fossil fuels.
“Instead of moving forward with common sense and available technology to mitigate the climate crisis, clean our air, and create good union jobs, the USPS has decided to continue to pollute communities at a time when federal agencies should be leading the way in tackling the issue. field of electrification,” said Katherine García, a policy expert at the Sierra Club, one of the environmental lawyers.