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Lawmakers grill Postal Service on Oshkosh truck purchase

A top U.S. Postal Service official defended the agency’s electric delivery truck contract from vehicle maker Oshkosh Defense despite calls by Democratic lawmakers to decarbonize the postal fleet faster.

Testifying at a hearing before the House Committee on Oversight and Reform on Tuesday, Victoria Stephen, executive director of the Postal Service’s Next Generation Delivery Vehicle program, claimed that the 50,000 truck order placed on March 24 — of which 10,019 will be battery electric — fulfilled the agency’s pledge to accelerate its emission-reduction strategy while staying within its budget.

But Democrats, with support from testimony from the Government Accounting Office (GAO) and the Postal Service’s Office of Inspector General (OIG), claimed the Postal Service made “unreasonable assertions” in deciding whether to dedicate more of the fleet to the more costly EVs — particularly regarding the price of fuel and maintenance costs.

“From what we’ve seen in documentation the Postal Service has provided so far, we have questions about how current some of the data is, how reasonable some of the estimates are and how consistent it is with other information we’ve seen in the market,” testified Jill Naamane, acting director for the GAO’s physical infrastructure team, when questioned by committee Chairwoman Carolyn Maloney, D-N.Y.

“As we continue our work we will test these assumptions, we’ll gather additional insight from the Postal Service and other sources and assess that against some objective criteria to make our final conclusions.”

Naamane’s report on the Postal Service’s electric vehicle strategy, which was released at the hearing, noted that the agency used a gas price in its cost/benefit analysis in comparing battery electric versus gasoline engine trucks that was almost $2 per gallon less than the current national average price of gas, skewing the analysis against investing in EVs.

In addition, the model used by the Postal Service to come up with an “optimal mix” between EVs and gas vehicles assumed a gas mileage efficiency of 15 miles per gallon. But that did not account for the use of air conditioning, which brings mileage efficiency down to 8.6 miles per gallon.

“As a result, the formula uses a lower total cost calculation for fuel purchases that may not be reasonable,” the report stated.

In addition, a separate OIG report issued in March found that EVs “are more mechanically reliable than gas-powered vehicles and require less scheduled maintenance.”

Stephen insisted, however, that even acknowledging updated assessments showing lower fuel and maintenance costs, “the savings and benefits are not sufficient to overcome the higher investment value that’s required for electric vehicles,” and rejected Democratic lawmakers’ calls for a new assessment.

Republicans on the committee, led by Ranking Member James Comer from Kentucky, argued that the higher upfront costs of electrifying the postal fleet adds to inflation and forces more reliance on China for rare earth metals used to make batteries, such as cobalt and lithium.

However, Kweisi Mfume, D-Md., pointed out that after receiving $10 billion in pandemic relief in 2020, recent passage of the Postal Service Reform Act that will relieve the service of $107 billion in past due amounts and future payments, and a current cash balance of $24 billion, the agency is in position to electrify more of its fleet.

But Stephen said that moving to an EV fleet is a small portion of the Postal Service’s funding priorities.

“We’ve deferred maintenance and we’ve deferred investments, so it’s not just our vehicles that are long overdue to be replaced. There are also infrastructure-related issues that are part of what the Postal Service will require to operate effectively and efficiently over the course of decades to come.”

Click for more FreightWaves articles by John Gallagher.

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