OLYMPIA — Attorney General Bob Ferguson announced today a lawsuit against Postmaster General Louis DeJoy and the U.S. Postal Service (USPS) asserting that they violated federal environmental law when deciding in February to replace up to 165,000 vehicles with primarily gas-powered models rather than making a larger switch to electric vehicles.
The lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California, asserts the Postal Service and Postmaster General Louis DeJoy violated the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), often referred to as the “Magna Carta of environmental law,” during a deficient review process. For example, USPS chose a manufacturer, signed a contract and put down a substantial down payment for new vehicles months before it released any environmental review of a decision. When USPS published its environmental review, it did not consider reasonable alternatives, like buying a majority of electric vehicles and opting for gas vehicles where electric vehicles were infeasible. The Postal Service also ignored key environmental impacts, like the effect of continued poor air quality in already-polluted communities. USPS also did not consider whether purchasing a majority of gas-powered vehicles was consistent with climate policies in states like Washington.
Instead, the Postal Service’s environmental review depended on a contactor with no experience making electric vehicles, ignored reasonable alternatives, discounted the air quality and climate effects of a new fleet of gas-powered trucks and relied on an assumption that any upgrades to its vehicle fleet would be environmentally beneficial.
In other words, USPS’ environmental review served solely to justify its predetermined choice: to buy the fossil-fuel-powered vehicles its preferred contractor was most familiar building.
“The ‘Magna Carta’ of environmental law requires government to look before it leaps by considering reasonable alternatives and allowing the people’s voices to inform decisions,” Ferguson said. “Postmaster DeJoy illegally leapt towards gas-powered vehicles without sufficiently considering alternatives. Postmaster DeJoy failed to uphold his responsibility to protect our shared environment.”
USPS has one of the largest civilian vehicle fleets in the world, consisting of approximately 212,000 vehicles that are on the road delivering mail at least six days per week to nearly every community in the U.S. Most of these vehicles were manufactured between 1986 and 1994 and are now beyond their intended service life. As a result, they are increasingly expensive to operate and maintain.
In February 2021, DeJoy, a Trump Administration appointee, chose Wisconsin-based Oshkosh Defense to build the replacement fleet. USPS will spend billions of dollars over the next decade to replace its aging vehicles. Oshkosh does not currently manufacture any electric vehicles.
When making its decision on the replacement fleet, Ferguson asserts, USPS ignored or discounted the environmental impacts — including air quality in communities already burdened by pollution, environmental justice and other climate harms — by simply assuming that any upgrade to its vehicle fleet would be positive. Ferguson asserts such an arbitrary metric is not the standard for review under NEPA, which requires federal agencies to take a hard look at environmental impacts of any decisions and not to commit resources to a course of action before completing an environmental review.
In Washington, warmer temperatures from climate change have led to diminished snowpack, harming downstream communities that rely on snowmelt for hydroelectric power, drinking water and agriculture. Further, legislation requires the state to reduce overall greenhouse gas emissions by 45 percent below 1990 levels by 2030.
Environmental justice recognizes that disproportionately impacted communities must be meaningfully involved in creating environmental protections. Research shows that Black, Indigenous, people of color and low-income communities face the worst of the impacts of environmental problems and climate change. Regarding the Postal Service’s decision on its fleet, the Environmental Protection Agency noted that since many vulnerable communities live near well-traveled and congested highways and mail distribution facilities then “they would be exposed to disproportionate emissions from mail delivery vehicles.”