DOT moves to open border

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Several steps remain before trucks start rolling across the border.

U.S. Transportation Secretary Norman Mineta on Nov. 27 directed the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration to act on the 130 applications received so far from Mexico-domiciled trucking and bus companies to provide cross-border services. The action followed President Bush’s modification of a moratorium on Mexican operating authority.

Those steps fulfill the United States’ obligations under the North American Free Trade Agreement, although service won’t begin until FMCSA reviews Mexican carrier applications and grants provisional operating authority.

Not surprisingly, DOT’s action encountered a quick legal challenge. On Dec. 3, several groups, including Public Citizen, the Environmental Law Foundation, the Teamsters and the California Trucking Association filed for an emergency stay with the Ninth Circuit federal appeals court to prevent Mexican carrier applications from being processed. The groups argue that federal officials have violated U.S. regulations by not conducting a complete environmental review of the trucks’ impact on air quality before allowing them to operate beyond the border commercial zone. Those groups have sought an injunction since May.

The appeals court took no action on the stay request, but it did order U.S. officials to notify the court and public when:

  • The United States and Mexico complete negotiations on a memorandum of understanding;
  • FMCSA schedules the first safety audit of a Mexican carrier; and
  • A Mexican carrier passes an audit.

In his announcement, Mineta vowed that the U.S. government would not ignore safety issues. “Mexican carriers and drivers must meet the same standards as U.S. operators,” Mineta said. “I have made a lifelong commitment to equality under the law and will not, however, tolerate discriminatory enforcement. In this matter of trucking, as in all the modes of transportation, the pervasive issue is safety.”

The change in the moratorium affects only shipments between the United States and Mexico. The prohibition on permits to Mexican carriers for service between U.S. points remains in place.