FMCSA Rejects Challenge to Mexico Border Crossings

By Michele Fuetsch,Staff Reporter

This story appears in the Oct. 10 print edition of Transport Topics. Click here to subscribe today.

Allowing Mexican trucks to haul freight across the U.S. border does not pose the kind of “significant” truck-emissions issues that would require a full environmental impact study, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration said.

FMCSA announced Oct. 3 it rejected arguments by the Sierra Club, the Teamsters union and other groups that a study is required before the Obama administration can implement a cross-border trucking pilot program.

FMCSA said it concluded “that the potential environmental impacts from the pilot program are not significant and do not warrant additional environmental analysis in the form of an Environmental Impact Statement.”

Before deciding an EIS was not necessary, FMCSA said, the agency “evaluated environmental issues such as emissions from vehicles, air quality impacts, and other pertinent matters, and requested public comments.”

In addition to the Sierra Club and the Teamsters union, the Natural Resources Defense Council filed comments arguing that a full environmental impact statement should be required.

Among the arguments the three challengers made was that ultra-low-sulfur diesel may not be in abundant supply in Mexico.

In its assessment of whether a full environmental impact statement was needed, FMCSA addressed the issue of ultra-low-sulfur diesel, saying it did not have statutory authority to set environmental standards on Mexican trucks nor the ability to test the fuel in each truck crossing the border.

However, the Mexican government agreed under the terms of the cross-border program that its trucks will, “at a minimum, have engines manufactured in accordance with 1998 EPA standards,” the FMCSA assessment said.

“This provides a minimum emissions standard that is easy to verify during an inspection,” FMCSA said.

The next step, if any of the opponents wishes to proceed, would be to file a lawsuit in a federal court.

“Obviously, we will evaluate our options and decide how to proceed . . . whether to take this to court or not,” said Jonathan Weissglass of Altshuler Berzon, the San Francisco law firm representing the Sierra Club and the Teamsters union.

Jessica Lass, press secretary for the Natural Resources Defense Council, said: “We don’t have any plans to file suit at this time.”

The cross-border trucking issue dates to the 1994 effective date of the North American Free Trade Agreement. NAFTA required the United States to allow Mexican carriers to deliver haul freight across the border.

Years of controversy in the United States over Mexican trucks, however, delayed implementation of the NAFTA requirement. And after Congress shut down one cross-border pilot program in 2009, the Mexican government retaliated by imposing stiff tariffs on U.S. products.

The Obama administration and Mexico signed an agreement in July that was to end the dispute and the tariffs. The pilot program was set to begin in August.

However, a recent audit by the U.S. Department of Transportation found that FMCSA has failed to put several procedures in place to monitor and inspect trucks entering the United States.

FMCSA said it could be 30 to 60 days before the agency can correct the situation.


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