To restore balance to the climate, we need to transform thousands of processes in the background of our everyday lives. Like the supply chain, these are things we don’t think about until they break. A prime example is our humble postal system. 

Every day, hundreds of thousands of letter carriers drive America’s streets delivering mail and packages. And every single day, their vehicles put thousands of metric tons of CO2 in the air, helping to push our climate systems to the brink of failure. Those vehicles also contribute to public health impacts each year. But it doesn’t have to be that way.

The U.S. Postal Service fleet of about 225,000 vehicles is perhaps the prime worldwide candidate for vehicle electrification. Delivery vehicles have to make constant stops, tend to go well under 200 miles a day, and need to be reliable, low maintenance and affordable over the long run. These are all things that electric vehicles excel at, which is why Jeff Bezos has said that Amazon will have 100,000 electric vans on the road in the next few years. It’s also why President Joe Biden seeks to electrify the federal fleet by 2027.

Yet Postmaster Louis DeJoy released a plan to buy up to 165,000 new “Next Generation Delivery Vehicles” (NGDV’s) over the coming decade … and only 10% of the first 50,000 would be EVs. After an uproar, he doubled this to 20%. But this is a travesty. With 20 separate billion-dollar climate disasters last year, from heat domes to fires to floods, our task ought to be clear: It’s long past time to move into a clean-energy future.

So at the end of April, Washington and 15 other states (as well as Washington, D.C., environmental groups and the United Auto Workers) sued the USPS, saying that the agency has illegally failed to consider the alternatives and underestimated the environmental impacts of the new gas delivery vehicles — as well as the environmental-justice impacts, given that vulnerable communities tend to live closest to highways and distribution facilities.

Study after study shows that with no gas and less need for maintenance, electric vehicles cost less over the life of the vehicle. While the upfront cost is currently higher, there are proposals in Congress to cover the additional costs of investing in EVs. We applaud the lawsuit, and urge the EPA to block the sale of dirty “new” mail trucks, while Congress, led by our Congressional delegation, secures funding for the EVs. Powered by Washington’s clean hydropower and wind energy, we would move immediately into a real “next generation” that would benefit all of us.

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Commitments to purchasing electric postal vehicles will also spur massive investment in U.S. batteries, charging infrastructure and related items all the way up the supply chain. Post offices with unused charging capacity can earn revenue allowing public access, augmenting the network of charging stations needed for an electric future.

Biden has directed that the zero-emission U.S. fleet be union-made out of at least 50% American materials. So if we act quickly, we’ll have nonpolluting, more durable, less expensive delivery trucks in our neighborhoods, trucks that were made by people holding family-wage jobs, out of U.S. materials. 

We can support American workers and bring the nation into an urgently needed clean-energy future. The U.S. has a unique opportunity to improve climate, health and American manufacturing — all by simply ensuring that the NGDVs are truly “next generation” and not the trucks DeJoy wants, which get .4 mpg (yes, that’s point four miles per gallon) better mileage than the current ones, built 30 to 35 years ago. That’s why the Biden administration has launched a last-minute push get the USPS to reconsider.

As with the supply chain, sometimes we need the invisible to be made visible in order to appreciate its omnipresence. When you next see a mail truck in your neighborhood, think about the hundreds of thousands of other mail trucks making their rounds, and ask yourself if we should settle for 165,000 new ones pushing the climate system to the brink and causing asthma and other pollution-related diseases, while being expensive and difficult to maintain. 

It’s a no-brainer. We need clean transport; we need clean air; and we need good jobs for American workers. Electrifying the postal fleet may be the simplest right thing we’ll ever do.