USPS Burns Millions Of Gallons Of Fuel Per Day

By U.S. Representative Jared Huffman (D-California)

The United States Postal Service, our reeling economy and our warming planet all need saving — and we have a unique opportunity to make progress on all three at the same time.

Since our nation’s founding, the Postal Service has been dutifully connecting millions of people to each other. It is among the most beloved American institutions and it continues to play a vital role in our economy and daily lives. But the truth is, our Postal Service is crumbling.

The Postal Service owns and operates the world’s largest civilian vehicle fleet. In 2015, more than 212,000 postal vehicles drove nearly 1.4 billion miles. That figure continues to rise by about 10 percent each year. About 141,000 of these vehicles are are old and inefficient Grumman LLVs, which average only 10 miles per gallon. This vehicle first entered service in 1987, and the majority have reached the end of their 24-year operational lifespan. In FY 2010, the petroleum fuel bill for all postal transportation totaled $1.7 billion. Today, the annual fuel cost at USPS is well above $2 billion per year, not to mention the cost to the planet in terms of greenhouse gas emissions.

A combination of factors — the decline in first-class and marketing mail, an arbitrary pre-funding requirement for future retiree health benefits, and leaders who respond only with cuts and service reductions instead of investing in a modern, revitalized postal service — have put the Postal Service in a downward spiral, with billions in annual losses. On top of that, the Trump administration’s disgraceful politicization of the Postal Service last year —installing a partisan operative as postmaster general and trying to hamstring service levels to undermine mail-in voting — undermined public confidence in the agency and further damaged morale among our 497,000 postal workers, many of them veterans.

Nothing more powerfully symbolizes the plight of the Postal Service than its antiquated, dilapidated and woefully inefficient vehicle fleet — its Achilles’ heel. The Postal Service operates the largest non-military vehicle fleet in the nation, with over 200,000 vehicles travelling over a billion miles each year. Most of these vehicles are past their operational lives and break down frequently. The Postal Service spent $2 billion and over 30,000 hours in delivery vehicle maintenance in 2019 alone.  They’re dangerous, lacking basic safety features like airbags and antilock brakes. Since 2014 over 400 of them have burst into flames. They are among the worst gas-guzzlers on the road, averaging just 10 miles per gallon.

A quarter of our nation’s greenhouse gases are emitted in the transportation sector.

It’s time to make our worst fleet our best fleet. This transition doesn’t have to be a financial black hole, death trap, massive polluter and national embarrassment. By investing in modern, efficient postal vehicles we can transform it into a global leader in energy efficiency and innovation, helping revitalize the beleaguered Postal Service and saving taxpayers billions of dollars every year. 

That’s where my bill, the Postal Vehicle Modernization Act, comes in. The bill provides $6 billion in funding for the purchase of next-generation electric or zero-emission Postal Service delivery vehicles. It also calls for additional charging stations at every public postal facility, and requires the Postal Service to comply with Buy American standards and applicable federal labor rules to make sure this transition maximizes jobs and economic benefits here at home, at a time when our country desperately needs it.

This opportunity aligns perfectly with the imperative of addressing the climate crisis. Experts agree that one of the most impactful climate-stabilizing solutions is to drastically reduce vehicle emissions. By using the purchasing power of the federal government to electrify the postal fleet, we can slash the Postal Service’s emissions, while supercharging the transition to clean electric vehicles throughout our nation.

The long-term benefits of this approach are compelling, including massive savings in fuel and maintenance costs, protecting all of us by having safer postal vehicles on the road, and boosting American manufacturing jobs while invigorating the global transition to clean zero-emission vehicles.

The timing could not be better. President Biden called for the electrification of all 645,000 federal government vehicles. States and major vehicle manufacturers have recently announced plans to phase out fossil fuel vehicle sales by 2035.

Clean vehicles are the future. The United States Postal Service, can lead the way.

Opportunity is often the flipside of crisis. It’s past time to reinvigorate our beleaguered Postal Service.  We need investments to boost economic recovery. And we’re running out of time to advance bold solutions to the climate crisis. We can help meet all three of these challenges by passing this legislation and working with the Biden administration to transform and decarbonize the transportation sector. Let’s get to work.

Huffman represents the 2nd District of California and chairs the Natural Resources Subcommittee on Water, Oceans and Wildlife. Congressman Huffman and Congressman Gerry Connolly (D-VA), introduced similar legislation in 2014 and 2019.

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