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Even if the Supreme Court overturns the mandate for more study, increase traffic across the border is many months away

U.S. GOVERNMENT APPEALS MEXICAN TRUCK RULING
U.S. Solicitor General Thomas Olson has asked the Supreme Court to review a lower court’s decision to require a lengthy environmental impact statement before opening the border to Mexican trucks.

The request was filed Sept. 8 in response to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit ruling that a detailed EIS and a general conformity evaluation, required under the Clean Air Act, were necessary. The court ruled in favor of the petitioners in January and upheld that decision when it reheard the case in April. The case was brought by Public Citizen, the California Trucking Association, Teamsters and other environmental and labor groups.

“The court of appeals misapplied the nation’s environmental laws and constrained the President’s discretion to conduct foreign affairs,” Olson wrote.

“The court of appeals’ decision also prolongs a significant trade dispute between the United States and Mexico, which the President has sought to resolve in accordance with the requirements of the North American Free Trade Agreement and the decision of an international arbitration panel finding the United States to be in violation of its obligations under NAFTA,” Olson says.

Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration Administrator Annette Sandberg said Aug. 26 that the agency would “begin work to comply with the court’s ruling” but would explore legal recourses as well. The agency solicited public comment on what should be included in the evaluation, which is expected to take 12 to 18 months.

In a related development, four U.S. states along the Mexican border will receive a total of nearly $47 million to build and improve safety inspection stations to create better border traffic flow and the safe operation of Mexican-domiciled trucks in the United States. FMCSA and the Federal Highway Administration will distribute $6 million to Arizona, $7.3 million to California, $2 million to New Mexico and $31.4 million to Texas.


FMCSA BACKS DIABETES EXEMPTIONS

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration announced last month that it would exempt certain insulin-using diabetic drivers of commercial motor vehicles from the regulatory prohibition against such drivers driving in interstate commerce. The agency began accepting applications on Sept. 22 for exemptions of up to two years. Exemptions could be renewed. FMCSA is leaving open the docket for new information and data on alternatives to the specific exemption conditions.

In announcing the exemption program, Transportation Secretary Norman Mineta called it “a creative approach based on data from a panel of experts that will enable an additional group of skilled professionals to help keep freight moving in America while we keep a sharp eye on safety.”

Before granting an individual’s exemption, FMCSA must publish a notice in the Federal Register identifying who will receive the exemption and the provisions from which they will be exempt; the effective period for exemption; and the terms and conditions. The public will have an opportunity to comment before FMCSA makes a final decision. A notice of the final disposition of the exemption, approved or denied, will be published in the Federal Register. FMCSA will revoke an exemption if it determines that an individual failed to comply with its terms or conditions; if the exemption has resulted in a lower level of safety; or if continuing the exemption becomes inconsistent with the goals and objectives of the regulations.

The FMCSA diabetes exemption process has three components. The first is a screening component to identify qualified applicants. This process examines the applicant’s experience and safety in operating CMVs with insulin-treated diabetes, the history of hypoglycemia, and the results of examinations by medical specialists. To be approved, applicants must have at least three years safe CMV driving while using insulin.

The second component provides guidelines for managing diabetes while operating a CMV. The final component specifies the FMCSA’s process for monitoring insulin-treated commercial drivers.

For more information, visit this site and search Docket No. 9800.


CCJ EQUIPMENT DEMAND INDEX
Once again, operators of dry van equipment should look for Illinois to provide the richest source of spot market freight in November. For the last five months, Illinois has held the first or second spot for vans in the CCJ Equipment Demand Index.

Ohio remained at the top for flatbed demand for the third consecutive month, beating Illinois once again by about 17 percent more in flatbed equipment searches.

California made its way back to the top position for reefer demand, bumping Illinois to second place. Reefer demand in California was 144 percent more than in Illinois. Historical data shows that California has traditionally had a strong demand for reefers in November, and has held first place for the past three years.



TSA EXPECTS HAZMAT RULE CHANGES

The Transportation Security Administration late last month was expected to announce changes to the interim final rule that requires tougher security standards for hazmat endorsements, a TSA spokesman said. The TSA spokesman, Brian Turmail, declined comment on what those changes would be.

Carriers have complained about inadequate time or guidance regarding implementation of the provisions of the rule. Truckers who don’t meet certain security standards had a Sept. 2 deadline to surrender the hazmat endorsement to their commercial driver’s license, he said. Very few surrendered their endorsements prior to Sept. 2.

“If they are pulled over after that, they could lose their hazmat endorsement, and it could impact their CDL,” Turmail said. It’s the trucker’s responsibility to surrender his endorsement or apply for a waiver if he does not meet the standards. Many have applied for a waiver, he added.

Qualified drivers must be U.S. citizens or lawful permanent residents, have no disqualifying criminal offenses, have not been ruled mentally incompetent or been committed to a mental institution. They can be disqualified for endorsement if the TSA considers them a threat to national or transportation security.

Under the original rule, TSA will require beginning Nov. 3 a fingerprint-based background check for drivers renewing a hazmat endorsement or seeking one. Late last month, it was widely expected that the Nov. 3 deadline would be pushed back.

Carriers have protested the new rules because there is no requirement that officials inform carriers of driver disqualifications. Trucking companies as well as state agencies have protested the timeline for fingerprints checks as insufficient.


ATF GRANTS RELIEF TO EXPLOSIVES HAULERS
Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives issued an interim final rule removing the requirement that certain common or contract carriers complete ATF Form 5400.8 (Explosives Delivery Record) prior to taking possession of explosive materials. ATF believes that this requirement is unduly burdensome and unnecessary and that its elimination will not result in diversion of explosive materials to criminal or terrorist use. The interim final rule appeared in the Sept. 11 issue of the Federal Register.


ATA HONORS THREE FOR SAFETY
The American Trucking Associations named three motor carriers as winners of its 2003 National Truck Safety Contest. The companies, representing large, mid-size and small fleets, are ABF Freight System, Inc, Fort Smith, Ark.; Pitt Ohio Express, Pittsburgh; and CLI Transport, Altoona, Pa.

The winning companies, judged to have the best overall safety programs and records of safety initiatives among contest entries, will be presented with ATA’s President’s Trophy during ATA’s Management Conference and Exhibition in San Antonio, Texas in October.

The trophy award, sponsored by Great West Casualty Company, recognizes fleets with the highest records of safe operation and the best programs to promote safety throughout the trucking industry and among all highway users and the general public.


BRIEFLY

Large trucks would pay $55 to $67 in tolls to drive through Virginia on Interstate 81 under two proposals state officials are considering to improve the 325-mile road. Two private groups, Fluor Virginia and Star Solutions, recently submitted their detailed proposals to the state transportation department. Local communities will have until Nov. 4 to comment, and a lengthy environmental review must be completed as well.

Tennessee Air Pollution Control Board voted last month to investigate ways to help meet federal air quality standards, including reducing truck speed on interstates and decreasing idling of heavy-duty diesel engines.

TransForce, a Quebec-based transportation and logistics firm, said it will buy Alberta-based Canadian Freightways after its bid was accepted by parent company Consolidated Freightways and approved by a U.S. bankruptcy court.

Hulcher Services, a Denton, Texas-based carrier in the business of helping to clear railroad accidents, lost its bid for an exemption to the hours-of-service regulations more than four years after filing the petition. The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration ruled that Hulcher had not explained how it would achieve a level of safety that is at least equivalent to the level of safety achieved by compliance with the rule. For more information, visit http://dms.dot.gov/search and search Docket No. 5880.

Volvo Trucks North America established the Volvo Truck Leasing System (VTLS), which offers full-service truck leasing and rental at 160 North American locations. VTLS members also receive support services, such as parts, tax service, tires, permits, licensing, fuel cards, road service, insurance and credit cards. The system initially includes the members of the existing Mack Leasing System.

National Association of Small Trucking Companies will hold its annual conference Nov. 13-15 at Millennium Maxwell House Hotel in Nashville. NASTC will honor its 10 Drivers of the Year and will conduct sessions on preparing drivers for the new hours-of-service rules and on auditing logs under the new regulations. For more information, visit www.nastc.com.

International Truck and Engine Corp. will keep its Chatham, Ontario, plant open for truck production after receiving a substantial financial aid commitment from the Canadian and Ontario governments. The government’s participation is part of the company’s 10-year, $189 million program at Chatham that includes investments in technology, training and updating the plant.