The Biden Administration is going postal


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The Biden Administration is working overtime to reverse a contract let to Wisconsin-based Oshkosh Defense Corp. to manufacture mail trucks for the U.S. Post Office (USPS) to meet the standards of its Next Generation Delivery Vehicle (NGDV) program.

The problem? The Oshkosh fleet will not be all-electric. The Oshkosh-built trucks can be fitted with both gasoline and electric drive trains. And the Biden Administration, which is committed to an all-electric federal vehicle fleet, is putting on the heat. After all, mail trucks comprise fully a third of all federal vehicles.

Back in 2017, the USPS began looking at vehicles vying for the right to build up to 180,000 mail trucks to replace its aging fleet– an estimated $6.3 billion contract at the time. [Small potatoes compared to the $63 billion shortfall in health care benefits set-asides that are being transferred to the underfunded Medicare system.] Congress is expected to increase the appropriation in the pending Postal Service Reform Act.

The initial goal was to have a contract in place in 2018, but the manufacturers kept demanding extended deadlines for completing prototype construction, and many of the early prototypes did not meet the government’s specifications. Then the pandemic hit, causing further delays.

As a result, not until February 2021, a month into the Biden-Harris Administration, did the USPS announce its award. The contract went to Oshkosh, a firm with a long history of building vehicles for government fleets, instead of to commercial electric vehicle startup (and Progressive favorite), the VT Hackney/Workhorse Group.

Under the contract’s initial $482 million investment, Oshkosh Defense will finalize the production design of the NGDV — a purpose-built, right-hand-drive vehicle for mail and package delivery — and will select the site for the buildout. Oshkosh is contracted as well to assemble 50,000 to 165,000 of these vehicles over the contract’s 10-year life.

Oshkosh, which began operations over a century ago, is an established maker of military gear, fire trucks, and concrete mixers. Second-place Workhorse has fewer than 1 percent of the 14,000-strong Oshkosh workforce and has only built 370 electric trucks in its 15-year history.

Unlike the existing mail trucks, many of which have been in service for three decades, the new NGDV will include air conditioning and heating, improved ergonomics, 360-degree cameras, advanced braking and traction control, air bags, and a front- and rear-collision avoidance system. The new vehicles will also have increased cargo capacity.

One of the chief selling points for the Oshkosh vehicle is that, unlike the all-electric Workhorse proposal, these vehicles will not depend upon a rapid buildout of EV charging stations (even at individual post offices) or upon a continuous supply of charging electricity during emergencies. A second significant selling point was price – the all-EV fleet would be far more expensive up front, and Congress did not authorize enough funding to pay for an all-electric switchover.

But this is the Biden-Harris all-electric cult. And just as it did to undo the permits for the Twin Metals copper-cobalt mine in Minnesota, the Progressive minions at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) have demanded that the Oshkosh contract be withdrawn or significantly modified to exclude all but electric vehicles. Such an action could delay the startup of vehicle replacement indefinitely.

The contract, the EPA lawyers argue, was awarded before the agency completed its review of the USPS’s environmental impact statement (EIS) for the NGDV program. The regulators, horrified that the USPS actually let a contract that does not force purchasing ONLY EVs, now claim there are “key deficiencies” in the EIS that the USPS used to effectively disqualify Workhorse’s bid. In effect, the EPA is claiming it has a veto over anything the USPS chooses to do.

In a letter dated February 2, EPA Associate Administrator Vicki Arroyo asserted that the final EIS “does not disclose essential information underlying the key analysis of Total Cost of Ownership (TCO), underestimates greenhouse gas emissions, fails to consider more environmentally protective feasible alternatives, and inadequately considers impacts on communities with environmental justice concerns. [All of these are arguments for EVs.]

Arroyo’s “fix” for these “deficiencies” includes the USPS submitting a revised EIS (written no doubt by Biden minions and not career USPS officials) that must be submitted for public comment as a supplemental EIS. Anything less, said Arroyo, would damage the “integrity” of the NEPA (National Environmental Policy Act) process – again implying that the $482 million contract was illegally awarded.

To soften the blow, Arroyo did add that “EPA understands that vehicle acquisitions are critical to Postal Service operations.” Still, the message was clear: “EPA recommends the Postal Service prioritize initially purchasing BEVs (battery-electric vehicles), consistent with any existing contract obligations. Not to worry that studies show at least 5 percent of postal routes are not suited for today’s electric vehicles.

Joining the chorus to effectively cancel the Oshkosh contract as approved, Progressive greens are now demanding that the EPA refer the dispute over the “poorly thought-out purchase” to the White House Council on Environmental Quality – a rubber stamp for the Biden Administration. How long before the long knives are out for the Postmaster General’s head?

Postmaster General Louis DeJoy, the first in two decades not a career employee, was confirmed in May 2020 with a pledge to modernize the federal agency. He is now on the hot seat for telling Congress that its appropriation only provided funds to make just 10 percent of the mail delivery fleet electric. An all-electric postal fleet would cost billions more (which may be on the way).

The USPS official response to Biden’s recent demands reflects its own harsh reality: “While we can understand why some who are not responsible for the financial sustainability of the Postal Service might prefer that we acquire more electric vehicles, the law requires us to be self-sufficient.” Workhorse, meanwhile, has considered filing a lawsuit – and surely the new EPA letter enhances its case. Are there kickbacks in the offing? Would Workhorse have been another Solyndra? Oshkosh, meanwhile, has been notably silent in the wake of the EPA’s new mission to force compliance with “woke” EV mandates.

Under DeJoy’s leadership, the slowed mail delivery leading up to the 2020 election has ended. Last Christmas, in fact, the USPS delivered 97 percent of its packages on time. If the Biden EPA succeeds in voiding or forcing major revisions to the Oshkosh contract, those lofty numbers may quickly disappear as older trucks break down and new ones are still being argued over.

One final thought. Mail trucks are supposed to last 30 years. Electric vehicle batteries will likely have to be replaced in every postal electric vehicle at least once, if not twice or three times, during their service life. One might think this fact would add significantly to the cost – but of course, the answer is Not Under Federal Budgeting.

New batteries are maintenance – and years down the road. Someone else’s problem. Our children’s problem. Who cares?

  • Duggan Flanakin is the Director of Policy Research at the Committee For A Constructive Tomorrow. A former Senior Fellow with the Texas Public Policy Foundation, Mr. Flanakin authored definitive works on the creation of the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality and on environmental education in Texas. A brief history of his multifaceted career appears in his book, "Infinite Galaxies: Poems from the Dugout."

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