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Washington sues over postal service changes as USPS backtracks on planned closures in Eastern Washington

UPDATED: Tue., Aug. 18, 2020

Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson speaks with high school students prior to an event at the Montvale Event Center on June 12, 2019. Ferguson spoke at a town hall as part of the Northwest Passages Pints & Politics community forum, in front of a sold out crowd.   (Libby Kamrowski / The Spokesman-Review)
Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson speaks with high school students prior to an event at the Montvale Event Center on June 12, 2019. Ferguson spoke at a town hall as part of the Northwest Passages Pints & Politics community forum, in front of a sold out crowd.  (Libby Kamrowski / The Spokesman-Review)

As Washington and some 20 other states began challenging changes to the U.S. Postal Service in court, the postmaster general announced he was suspending those changes at least until after the election.

In Washington, the suspension will mean that mail sorting will continue in both Wenatchee and Yakima rather than being routed through Spokane.

Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson said he was not shocked by Postmaster General Louis DeJoy’s announcement, which came as Ferguson and Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro were detailing separate lawsuits they planned to file in their respective states.

The Associated Press said DeJoy announced he was suspending his initiatives until after the election “to avoid even the appearance of impact on election mail.” Retail hours at post offices will not change, mail-processing equipment and boxes will remain, no facilities will be closed and overtime will be approved “as needed.”

The service will use standby resources “in all areas of our operations, including transportation, to satisfy any unforeseen demand,” he said.

David Rupert, the western area spokesman for the Postal Service, said mail will continue to be processed in Wenatchee, Yakima and Tacoma. Up until Tuesday morning those facilities had been targeted for closure, with most Eastern Washington mail being processed in Spokane and mail processed in Tacoma being sent to Seattle.

DeJoy’s announcement did not stop Washington from filing a lawsuit in federal court in Spokane on Tuesday, Ferguson said. He won’t cancel the lawsuit strictly on DeJoy’s assurances and will instead wait to “get that in writing.”

The Trump administration previously has backed off from changes it announced when confronted with lawsuits that claim its officials did not follow procedures in federal law, he said.

The changes in the Postal Service – including the proposed closures of three of Washington’s five processing facilities – are intended to improve the service’s efficiency and reduce costs, DeJoy has said. But critics say it will slow important mail, such as prescriptions to seniors and veterans and mail-in ballots traveling to and from voters in the upcoming presidential election.

Democrats and Republicans in Congress have been critical of the changes, and attacks on the Postal Service and mail-in voting were a theme in the opening night of the Democratic National Convention on Monday.

The House was called back from its summer recess to vote on Postal Service legislation as early as Saturday, and DeJoy is scheduled to appear before a House committee on Monday. Democratic senators sent DeJoy a letter on Monday demanding information on the planned closures and any analysis that supports it.

Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., said Tuesday the postmaster general was forced to delay the changes by “the voices of millions of outraged Americans” but questions remain about how DeJoy will remedy disruptions that have already occurred.

Ferguson said the way the changes were being instituted violate federal laws that require revisions in service to be submitted to the Postal Regulatory Commission for analysis, and to have public comment.

In the past when the administration has done that with changes to federal regulations, Washington and other states have successfully sued in federal court.

Washington has 13 other states that have signed on to its lawsuit. A separate suit being prepared in Pennsylvania because of differences in that state’s election laws, is likely to be joined by six or seven states, Shapiro said.

Orion Donovan-Smith contributed to this report.

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