The United States Postal Service, our reeling economy, and our 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 the American 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. For most Americans it is a valuable service, and for seniors and veterans it is a critical lifeline. Mail-order prescriptions, paying bills, casting ballots America’s aging population depends on the Postal Service for all of this. But the truth is, our postal infrastructure is crumbling.
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 USPS in a downward spiral, with billions in annual losses. On top of that, the past administration’s politicization of the USPS last year undermined public confidence in the agency and further damaged its ability to provide services, betraying American seniors who rely on the US Postal Service more than any other age group.
Nothing more powerfully symbolizes the plight of the postal service than its antiquated, dilapidated, and woefully inefficient vehicle fleet its Achilles’ heel. The USPS operates the largest non-military vehicle fleet in the nation. Most of the 200,000 vehicles are past their operational lives and break down frequently, costing $2 billion and over 30,000 hours in delivery vehicle maintenance in 2019 alone. They’re dangerous, lacking basic safety features like airbags and anti-lock brakes. Since 2014 over 400 of them have reportedly caught on fire. And they are among the worst gas-guzzlers on the road, averaging just 10 miles per gallon and costing taxpayers about $491 million a year just for fuel.
It’s clear that the United States Postal Service provides tremendous service and value to seniors and millions of other Americans, and we can’t let it fall deeper into crisis. This huge fleet doesn’t have to be a financial blackhole, death trap, massive polluter, and national embarrassment. By investing in modern, efficient postal vehicles we can transform it into a global leader in efficiency and innovation, helping revitalize the beleaguered postal service and ensuring it can continue to provide its invaluable services not to mention creating jobs and saving taxpayers billions of dollars each 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 USPS delivery vehicles. It also calls for additional electric charging stations at every public postal facility, and requires the USPS to comply with Buy American standards and applicable federal labor rules to make sure this transition maximizes good American 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 not only slash the USPS‘ emissions but supercharge 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 simply could not be better. President Biden has called for the electrification of all 645,000 federal government vehicles, featuring that goal in his American Jobs Plan. States and major vehicle manufacturers have recently announced plans to phase-out fossil fuel vehicle sales by 2035. Clean vehicles are the future and it’s coming fast. America’s favorite public agency, the venerable old 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.
• U.S. Representative Jared Huffman, California Democrat, serves on the Committee on Natural Resources, the Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure, and the Select Committee on the Climate Crisis, and also founded the Congressional Freethought Caucus. He represents the 2nd Congressional District and is committed to protecting the unique environmental and economic values of the North Coast.
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