The U.S. Postal Service (USPS) is in the process of replacing up to 165,000 delivery vehicles that are typically at least 25 years old, dangerous, and prone to breakdowns. They lack airbags and anti-lock brakes. Many do not have air conditioning or adequate heating systems.
More than 400 have caught on fire in recent years. So far, surprisingly, no postal worker has been killed.
If these vehicles were not owned by the U.S. government, they would likely be banned from America’s roads. The dangerous and oppressive working atmosphere they create for postal workers would also likely be regarded at a private company as systemic OSHA violations and grounds for shutting the enterprise down.
But to hear left-of-center politicians and environmental elites tell it, what should matter most about replacing the Postal Service’s delivery trucks is that it should somehow be a catalyst to save the planet.
Since the USPS announced its plans to replace its vehicles in February 2021, there has been a primal scream from the left for nearly all these vehicles to be electric. But there is seldom any concern about the welfare of postal workers.
This was evident during an August 8 public hearing conducted by USPS about its new vehicle program. They hyperbolic rhetoric included an attorney for the Sierra Club saying, “The pace at which the USPS transitions to electric vehicles will either help deliver (the) pollution future we are striving for or set us back decades.”
In other words, how USPS chooses to replace a large chunk of its 230,000 delivery vehicles, less than 0.1 percent of the vehicles on America’s roads today, is going to somehow determine whether the push to curb greenhouse gas emissions fails or succeeds.
And it gets more bizarre.
The Natural Resources Defense Council warned of the “increased climate impacts” if the vehicles are not electric, while urging USPS to account for the social-economic impacts of where the vehicle production is likely to occur.
But for the more than 200,000 postal workers driving the old, dangerous trucks there was no concern.
Democratic states attorneys general who are suing USPS for more electric vehicles similarly ignored the plight of postal workers in their extensive August 15 public comments filed with USPS. In calling for at least 90 percent of the vehicles to be electric, the filing is heavy on concerns about the planet, but no mention of their constituents who drive these trucks.
The grandiose language includes, “The States have a strong interest in preventing the adverse environmental and public health impacts of fossil fuel development and combustion, including air quality degradation and public health harms associated with the use of fossil fuel-powered vehicles.”
In a related press release about the filing, Connecticut’s attorney general expressed concern for “environmental justice communities that are already overburdened by pollution” as if the only vehicles in poor neighborhoods are from USPS. He was silent, though, on the dangers Connecticut postal workers face.
Postmaster General Louis DeJoy deserves credit for courageously announcing this program in February 2021, soon after he took office. USPS over-studied the issue for years and should have started buying the vehicles 10-15 years earlier.
What matters most for worker safety and the USPS’s public service mission to deliver the mail is getting as many new trucks as soon as possible. The new vehicles are to be delivered in 2023, and they cannot come fast enough. If this means getting more gasoline-powered than electric vehicles, so be it. The new gasoline vehicles are going to be far safer and cleaner than the existing vehicles.
The National Association of Letter Carriers (NALC), whose members drive these trucks, has long been pushing hard for the new vehicles as well. The union’s May 2021 magazine, The Postal Record, discussed this at length and said, “Throughout this process, NALC and USPS have held numerous meetings regarding the design, production, and testing of the prototype vehicles.”
The article continues: “Drawing on their own experience as letter carriers, as well as input from letter carriers across the country, NALC national officers and staff have worked with representatives from the Postal Service to finalize the required features of the next general delivery vehicle.”
USPS also received $3 billion from Congress as part of the Inflation Reduction Act to purchase electric vehicles and related infrastructure. Rather than charging into the market for electric vehicles, at a time when supply is constrained and prices high, the Postal Service should judiciously make these purchases.
USPS is also facing intense pressure and scrutiny to make sure it spends its electric vehicle dollars well. House Democrats are focused on making sure the money gets spent quickly. House Republicans would do better to demand an old-school, rigorous accounting that the funds are spent methodically and efficiently so they are not squandered.
At the end of the day, however USPS replaces its vehicles, it is good news for postal workers and USPS’s infrastructure. Environmental activists should celebrate that, not condemn it. And they should try to be happy for postal workers.
Paul Steidler is a Senior Fellow with the Lexington Institute, a public policy think tank based in Arlington, Virginia.