By Sean McNally, Senior Reporter
This story appears in the April 30 print edition of Transport Topics. Click here to subscribe today.
A coalition including Public Citizen, the Teamsters union and the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association filed a federal lawsuit last week, aimed at stopping the Bush administration’s plan to open the U.S. border to Mexican trucks.
The April 23 lawsuit, filed in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California in San Francisco, contends the Department of Transportation’s border pilot program violated established federal guidelines.
It wants to prevent DOT from moving forward until it releases more details and provides “public notice of the pilot program and an opportunity for the public, including plaintiffs and their members, to comment on the program.”
Transportation Secretary Mary Peters announced the pilot program in late February. It would grant about 100 Mexican trucking companies access to U.S. highways beyond the limited area near the border where they currently are allowed to operate, provided they submit to on-site inspections in Mexico by U.S. safety officials (3-5, p. 1).
As of April 26, Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration spokeswoman Melissa DeLaney said the agency had completed audits of 31 carriers, 27 of which had passed.
The lawsuit claims, “DOT is obligated under [federal law] to publish a detailed description of the pilot program in the Federal Register [and] provide notice and an opportunity for public comment on the pilot program.”
However, the coalition said, DOT so far “has not published any description, let alone a detailed description, of the pilot program in the Federal Register. Nor has the secretary provided notice and an opportunity for public comment on the pilot program.”
In a statement, FMCSA defended the program.
“[FMCSA] has aggressively sought to educate the public about the cross-border demonstration program since it was first proposed in 1994,” FMCSA said. “We have worked extensively with Congress and the Office of the Inspector General to implement this program and its many safety standards and are prepared to defend the program in court.”
This lawsuit, which also includes the Sierra Club, the Environmental Law Foundation and a Teamsters local union, is the second one filed against DOT over the Mexican truck issue.
In March, Public Citizen, along with several other advocacy groups, sued, seeking documents and information about the pilot program. That suit is still pending, but the current one, the parties said, was aimed at stopping, or at least stalling, the pilot project itself.
“This so-called pilot program was rushed through in secrecy to serve as a showpiece to permit the Bush administration to proclaim victory and declare the entire southern border open to unfettered, longhaul truck commerce before the end of 2008,” Public Citizen President Joan Claybrook said in a statement. “Congress and the courts should not allow it.”
“The Bush administration is ignoring the American people in its zeal to open our borders to unsafe Mexican trucks,” Teamsters President James Hoffa said. “This reckless pilot program must be stopped, and the driving public protected.”
“The DOT has still not answered questions about verification of drivers’ records, drug and alcohol testing, hours of service, cabotage, inspections and insurance,” OOIDA Executive Vice President Todd Spencer said.
“They make general statements about audits of Mexican motor carriers but have shown nothing that should make the American public feel confident that they have fulfilled all the obligations necessary before moving forward.”
Congress took steps to block the Mexican truck program by including more restrictive language — including a provision that would guarantee U.S. carriers equal access to Mexican highways — in a bill passed last week to fund military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan.
However, President Bush has said he opposes those provisions, as well as other parts of the bill, and would veto the legislation.