Presidential hopefuls criticize cross-border program

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The start of the cross-border trucking program with Mexico was met with criticism from various parties, including Sen. Hillary Clinton and other presidential hopefuls.

Clinton, D-N.Y., said she would work to address safety, security and environmental matters related to the program. “Earlier this year, I called on the administration to halt the program until numerous concerns with the program were adequately addressed,” she said. “Recently the Inspector General issued yet another report concluding that there remain ongoing issues with the safety and the security of the pilot program. Nonetheless, the administration has chosen to push forward with the program in the face of these concerns.”

Sen. John Edwards, D-N.C., said the program endangered American jobs and safety while violating congressional mandates.

“Multinational corporations and their Washington lobbyists greased the way to extend NAFTA onto American highways and streets, without regard for the impact on the environment or on the safety of America’s workers and families,” Edwards said. “Last month, an audit found that the database used to monitor Mexican drivers with license convictions – known as the ’52nd State System’ – has failed to record thousands of convictions. Mexican diesel trucks will not be required to meet the stricter emissions standards of states like California.”

U.S. Rep. Duncan Hunter, D-Calif., called it a “terrible decision” and hoped the Senate would pass an amendment he and House members had supported to the FY2008 Appropriations Act, which prohibited funds from being applied to the program.

“The Department of Transportation has demonstrated that it is a better advocate for the interests of Mexican trucking companies than it is for the interests of the American people,” Hunter said. “Congress directed DOT to certify just how it intended to apply and enforce its trucking standards. Rather than working with Congress to address the safety and security challenges presented by this program, DOT has decided to move ahead and open our Southern land border to Mexican truckers.”

Teamster General President Jim Hoffa said the union would fight it to the Supreme Court. The Teamsters, Public Citizen, the Environmental Law Foundation and the Sierra Club unsuccessfully sued to halt the program.

“The American people only found out about it after the Teamsters forced the Bush administration to admit — in a court of law — that it wanted to open the borders on Labor Day weekend,” Hoffa said. “When reporters tried to get a straight answer from the Department of Transportation, they couldn’t. Then we learned in a footnote to a legal document that the program might start on Thursday.”

Public Citizen President Joan Claybrook accused the Bush administration of ignoring public safety and burying news.

“The public learned of the administration’s decision in a hastily scheduled teleconference held at 9 p.m. Thursday, during which the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration announced that it would let loose Mexico-domiciled carriers on the public in a ‘demonstration project,’ with trucks permitted to start crossing the border immediately,” Claybrook said.

“We are by now accustomed to the Bush administration trying to bury unpopular and controversial news like this by releasing it on Friday afternoon, but an announcement made at 9 p.m. – with only 30 minutes notice – is a new low.”

The Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association petitioned the U.S. Department of Transportation Friday, Sept. 7, for a review of the pilot program and a stay on the program pending review in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia. Todd Spencer, OOIDA executive vice president, said the program did not follow congressional directives and legal requirements.

“We believe we have a strong case against what is being called a pilot program, but is actually a stealthily implemented, pre-ordained plan to fully open our highways to Mexican trucks,” Spencer said. “This is all done in the name of global economics and cheap labor.”

However, U.S. Chamber of Commerce President Tom Donohue called the program launch “an important step to enhance competitiveness, reduce pollution and promote economic growth.”

“This pilot project is a long-overdue step toward reducing congestion and air pollution at the U.S.-Mexico border while promoting growth and jobs,” Donohue said. “We have no credibility calling on other countries to meet their obligations under trade agreements if we refuse to keep our own. The United States promised under NAFTA to open its border to Mexican trucks – with full reciprocity for U.S. carriers – and it’s time we kept our word.”