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Rep. Jared Huffman applauds $6 billion earmarked to replace Postal Service vehicles

For six years, Rep. Jared Huffman has been intent on replacing the U.S. Postal Service’s aging fleet of gas-guzzling mail delivery vehicles with something better for the environment and the cash-strapped federal agency.

Now, a largely overlooked item in the House Democrats’ $1.5 trillion infrastructure bill — dubbed the Moving Forward Act — includes $6 billion to make it happen, including a stipulation that at least 75% of the new vehicles must be electric.

“It’s exciting,” said Huffman, a San Rafael Democrat and congressional leader on environmental issues.

“Think about the difference,” he said, asserting that replacement of the world’s largest civilian vehicle fleet with “cutting edge EVs” will produce “a massive fuel savings and clean air and climate benefits.”

Huffman, who first proposed modernizing the Postal Service fleet in 2014, is confident the 2,309-page spending bill will pass a House vote this week.

“The question is, does it just sit on Mitch McConnell’s desk?” he said, referring to the Republican Senate majority leader who has routinely bottled up bills spawned in the Democrat-controlled House.

The concept of an infrastructure bill has been bandied about on Capitol Hill for years, but “everyone has always found excuses not to do it,” Huffman said.

Passage of the $2 trillion economic stimulus bill in March should ease the sticker shock of the Moving Forward Act, he said.

“Just about everybody is saying it’s zero percent interest, just borrow the money and get this thing done,” Huffman said.

The proposed $25 billion in Postal Service funding, which includes modernizing operations and equipment, pales in comparison with more than $300 billion for roads and bridges, $130 billion for schools and $100 billion for both transit and housing.

The Postal Service appropriation is an enhanced version of Huffman’s Fleet Act of 2014 that would have set a fuel efficiency standard of 34.1 mpg for the vehicles that deliver the nation’s mail.

“It is a fleet full of clunkers,” he said, referring to the service’s workhorse, the familiar boxy, white trucks with a red and blue stripe and a right-side driver’s seat.

There are about 140,000 of the Grumman Long Life Vehicles (LLVs), designed for the Postal Service and introduced in 1987, that get 10 mpg in stop-and-go driving.

The Grummans’ poor condition, with persistent breakdowns as carriers deliver the mail, contributes to the agency’s financial woes, Huffman said. The service says most are near or beyond the vehicle’s “designed useful life.”

The $6 billion is earmarked for replacing the Grummans, and the bill also stipulates that at least half of the medium- and heavy-duty trucks acquired by the Postal Service through 2029 must also be electric or zero-emission vehicles.

The service would be required to maintain enough charging stations to operate its vehicles, as well as at least one charging station for public use at every facility accessible to the public.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, introducing the Moving Forward Act on June 18, described the Postal Service as “the connective tissue of our country.” More than 90% of the medicines received by veterans come through the mail, she said.

The service, with about 470,000 career employees, handled about 143 million items in the last fiscal year, traveling 1.34 billion miles, the equivalent of 53,640 laps around the Earth.

A Pew Research Center survey last year found the Postal Service the most highly favored federal agency, followed, in order, by the National Park Service, NASA and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Least favored among 16 agencies was Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

The agency, which President Donald Trump and conservatives want to privatize, handles 48% of the world’s mail. It receives no federal funding and operates at a loss, making about $70 billion a year from sales of postage, products and services.

You can reach Staff Writer Guy Kovner at 707-521-5457 or guy.kovner@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @guykovner.

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