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Post Office Can't Afford To Replace Entire Aging Gas-Powered Fleet With EVs

SCOTT DETROW, HOST:

The Biden administration wants to convert hundreds of thousands of government vehicles from gas to electric-powered, but will it be enough to reduce the nation's carbon footprint? NPR's Brian Naylor reports.

BRIAN NAYLOR, BYLINE: In one of his first actions in January, President Biden announced an ambitious plan that he said would create jobs and reduce the federal government's greenhouse gas emissions.

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PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: The federal government also owns an enormous fleet of vehicles, which we're going to replace with clean electric vehicles made right here in America by American workers, creating millions of jobs, a million autoworker jobs, in clean energy and vehicles that are net-zero emissions.

NAYLOR: That enormous fleet includes some 650,000 vehicles, everything from Army Humvees to Social Security Administration staff cars. It's a small slice of the some 280 million vehicles on the nation's roads overall. But Robert Puentes of the Eno Center for Transportation, a transportation think tank, says Biden is on the right track.

ROBERT PUENTES: Transportation is the No. 1 emitter of greenhouse gases, and the U.S. lags far behind. And so, you know, for the president to put the government purchasing power in play and to try to convert those vehicles certainly makes sense.

NAYLOR: Biden has also called for installing half-a-million new charging stations for electric vehicles, something Puentes says will be a heavy lift.

PUENTES: How do you make sure that they are focused in low-income neighborhoods, multifamily housing that may not have access to their own electricity infrastructure that way? So there's an awful lot that we still need to sort through. But if we're going to make a dent in climate change, this has to be one of the tools in the toolbox.

NAYLOR: The Biden administration hasn't said how it intends to pay for these new vehicles and charging stations. By far, the largest chunk of the federal fleet, about a third, is the U.S. Postal Service's delivery trucks. So Postmaster General Louis DeJoy's announcement last month of a new contract to replace many of those aging, gas-guzzling vehicles was welcomed by groups urging the government do more to reduce carbon emissions.

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LOUIS DEJOY: This is great news because we are committed to move forward a more environmentally sustainable mix of vehicles in our fleet.

NAYLOR: Gina Coplon-Newfield is with the Sierra Club.

GINA COPLON-NEWFIELD: Postal delivery trucks are the perfect use case for electric vehicles. They don't travel far distances in any given day. They sit idle overnight, when they can charge. They're expensive to fuel, at an average of 10 miles per gallon. And they travel through neighborhoods, exposing people to air pollution. So shifting to a 100% electric USPS fleet should really be a no-brainer.

NAYLOR: But as DeJoy later explained to lawmakers, because of financial constraints, only about 10% of those new trucks would be electric vehicles. Coplon-Newfield says that's not good enough.

COPLON-NEWFIELD: Electrifying just 10% of the USPS fleet, as the Postmaster DeJoy has suggested, is really shortsighted and not acceptable.

NAYLOR: Members of Congress are urging DeJoy to purchase more new electric vehicles. The postmaster general has said it would cost an additional $3 billion to $4 billion to make the Postal Service's fleet 90% electric, money the cash-strapped agency doesn't have.

Brian Naylor, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.