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Sixteen states and environmental groups file lawsuits against USPS over its gas-powered vehicle plans

USPS hikes prices and slows deliveries
USPS hikes prices and slows deliveries 02:05

More than a dozen states and several environmental groups filed lawsuits Thursday against the United States Postal Service over its plan to replace existing fleet with up to 165,000 gas-powered delivery trucks. The USPS has been accused of failing to meet environmental review standards and missing an opportunity to buy battery electric vehicles. 

Earlier this year, the USPS said it would move forward with a multibillion-dollar plan to modernize its mail trucks with nearly 90% of its new fleet made up of gas-powered vehicles, despite pushes for electric trucks from President Joe Biden and the Environmental Protection Agency. Neither the president nor the EPA has the authority to stop the independent agency's plan. 

According to the lawsuit — filed by 16 states, including California, Connecticut, Oregon, New Mexico, Maine and Maryland; the District of Columbia; the City of New York and the Bay Area Air Quality Management District — the USPS failed to properly evaluate the environmental impacts of its fleet replacement decision, as the fossil-fuel powered internal combustion engine vehicles are said to "emit significant amounts of greenhouse gases." 

The alleged faulty environmental review by the USPS is a violation of the National Environmental Policy Act, which requires federal agencies to take a "hard look" at the the environmental, social and economic consequences of their proposed actions ahead of making decisions, the plaintiffs say.

"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," California Attorney General Rob Bonta said in a statement. "There won't be a reset button."

In another lawsuit filed Thursday, the environmental organizations Clean Air Now, the Center for Biological Diversity and the Sierra Club accused the USPS of conducting the legally-required environmental review of its fleet after already having finalized and purchased its first order of replacement vehicles.

The groups say the USPS knowingly ignored concerns that agencies and scientists had with its environmental review. The plaintiffs added they also pushed the USPS for a transition to electric zero-emission vehicles. 

"The purpose of environmental review is to inform the USPS's decision, not rubberstamp a plan it had already made," attorney Scott Hochberg with the Center for Biological Diversity's Climate Law Institute said in a statement. "Postal delivery trucks visit almost every neighborhood in the United States daily. It's backward and bewildering that the USPS would show such disregard for climate and public health with its decision." 

A third lawsuit filed Thursday by the Natural Resources Defense Council and International Union, United Automobile, Aerospace and Agricultural Implement Workers of America echoed such claims, saying the USPS's fleet purchase plan was "deficient at every step." It accuses the USPS of failing to consider and evaluate more reasonable alternatives. The lawsuit adds that the USPS plan "would cause undisclosed and unexamined adverse environmental and socioeconomic impacts"

The plaintiffs want the USPS to officially declare that it violated the National Environmental Police Act, as well as injunctive relief to prevent the agency from acquiring the new vehicles until it complies with the act. 

"The Postal Service must undertake the accurate and thorough environmental review it should have done the first time," the Natural Resources Defense Council's federal clean vehicles senior advocate Britt Carmon said in a statement. "Its error-filled, flimsy analysis should be returned to sender."

But the USPS refuted claims made in the lawsuits, saying that it "conducted a robust and thorough review and fully complied with all of our obligations under NEDA." 

"The Postal Service is fully committed to the inclusion of electric vehicles as a significant part of our delivery fleet even though the investment will cost more than an internal combustion engine vehicle," senior public relations representative Kim Frum told CBS News in a statement. "That said, as we have stated repeatedly, we must make fiscally prudent decisions in the needed introduction of a new vehicle fleet."

According to Frum, the agency's replacement plan allows for more battery-electric vehicles to be added in the future should additional funding become available. 

"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," Frum said. 

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