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USPS plan to order 40,000 "gas-guzzling" trucks sparks congressional probe

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The U.S. Postal Service's plan to add 40,000 gas-powered trucks that only get 8.6 miles per gallon has sparked a congressional inquiry, with House lawmakers questioning whether the agency "relied on flawed assumptions to justify the purchase of gas-powered trucks."

The House Committee on Oversight and Reform said in a May 12 letter that it wants the USPS to provide more information about the service's "Next Generation Delivery Vehicle" plan, which initially involves an order for 50,000 vehicles. Of those, about 40,000 are gas-fueled trucks that only get 8.6 mpg, or only 0.4 mpg more than the USPS' older fleet of trucks, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. 

The remaining 10,000 trucks will be electric vehicles.

The postal agency's plan to replace its existing fleet with mostly gas-powered trucks has raised concerns among more than a dozen states and environmental groups, with lawsuits filed last month that accuse the USPS of failing to meet environmental review standards. 

A recent report from the U.S. Government Accountability Office flagged several issues with the USPS' cost and benefit analysis for the purchase, such as basing its purchase on a gas price of as little as $2.21 per gallon — about $2 a gallon less than the current price of gas.

In the May 12 letter, Oversight Committee Chairwoman Rep. Carolyn Maloney wrote that she "urge[s] the Postal Service to take steps to rapidly transition to an electric fleet rather than moving ahead with plans to buy tens of thousands of gas-guzzling trucks."

The inquiry comes after the House on Wednesday advanced a bill that would invalidate the USPS' environmental impact statement (EIS) about the impact of the new trucks, and require the postal agency to create a new EIS before buying more vehicles,

Pushback could delay new trucks

The USPS said that it was "discouraged" by the bill, which it said could delay the rollout of the trucks by a year or more. 

A delay "will also have environmental consequences as 30-year old environmentally and employee-unfriendly vehicles continue to travel through American neighborhoods, and our purchase of 10,019 electric vehicles is put on hold," a USPS spokeswoman said in an email to CBS MoneyWatch. "The men and women of the U.S. Postal Service have waited long enough for safer, cleaner vehicles."

The dispute over the new vehicles stems from a 2021 agreement between the USPS and Oshkosh Defense, championed by Postmaster General Louis DeJoy, to produce 50,000 vehicles out of a new fleet of 165,000 trucks. The $482 million contract has elicited mixed reactions, with critics calling out everything from the trucks' design to their fuel efficiency. 

Critics say the USPS' "next generation" delivery truck (seen in a promotional shot above), which gets less than 9 mpg, is a gas guzzler. USPS

Witnesses at an April hearing about the vehicle deal raised questions about whether the USPS "used flawed assumptions in its environmental and cost analyses to justify the purchase of gas-guzzling delivery trucks rather than electric vehicles," Maloney wrote in the May 12 letter. 

Aside from the assumptions about gas prices that were off by $2 a gallon, Maloney cited the GAO's finding that the USPS "miscalculated maintenance costs for electric vehicles." She noted that others have said that the postal agency also relied on inaccurate information about the cost of EV chargers and the range of EVs.

The USPS said that the criticism of its environmental impact statement ignores the agency's "distinctive delivery profile, which requires our vehicles to travel short distances between hundreds of curbside boxes and to stop and start frequently throughout the day, which is a vastly different delivery profile than that of our competitors."

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