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U of M study finds flaws in USPS plan to replace fleet with mostly gas-powered delivery trucks

An electric powered version of what the USPS calls its Next Generation Delivery Vehicles.
An electric powered version of what the USPS calls its Next Generation Delivery Vehicles.

The U.S. Postal Service's plan to replace its aging fleet of delivery trucks is heavily dependent on vehicles with internal combustion engines.

At first, the Postal Service said its research found it was prudent to make only 10% of its expected165,000 purchases electric vehicles.

Environmental groups, state attorneys general, and even the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency said the Postal Service evaluation was flawed.

A new study from the University of Michigan went through the data and calculated the plan favoring gas-fueled trucks was faulty in several ways.

It found the postal service's assessment of greenhouse gas emissions over the life cycle of a vehicle — building, using, and disposing of it — was wrong.

The study also found the estimated greenhouse gas emissions from fossil fuel plants generating power for electric vehicles was off.

The postal service estimated greenhouse gas emissions from those plants will be the same for 30 years. But fossil fuel power generation is steadily being replaced by renewable energy.

“As the grid gets cleaner, then those vehicles will also be cleaner because they’re using cleaner electricity,” said Maxwell Woody, the lead author of the U of M study and a Ph.D. student in the university's Center for Sustainable Systems.

He said the postal service also miscalculated the amount of greenhouse gas emissions from the gas-powered vehicles.

“We estimate about 15% higher emissions from the gas vehicles than USPS did,” Woody said.

The recently approved Inflation Reduction Act contains nearly $3 billion to help the USPS switch to more climate-friendly vehicles.

The study was published in the journal Environmental Science and Technology. If you don’t want to read the entire study, the University of Michigan issued a fairly detailed press release on the study’s findings.

The postal service did not respond to a request for comment.

Lester Graham reports for The Environment Report. He has reported on public policy, politics, and issues regarding race and gender inequity. He was previously with The Environment Report at Michigan Public from 1998-2010.
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