A U.S. government agency has begun a new audit to determine if the Bush administration has resolved inspection issues that would allow Mexican trucks to enter the U.S. freely.
David Barnes, a spokesman for the Office of Inspector General within the U.S. Department of Transportation confirmed to WND a new audit was begun in March 2006 on action by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration.
Barnes said he could not speculate on the outcome of the new study or on whether FMCSA had made any progress working out on-site safety inspection requirements with Mexico.
Despite repeated calls, WND received no comment from the office of Transportation Secretary Norman Mineta.
The issue draws heightened significance in light of the North American Free Trade Agreement super-highway plans being developed by the Trans-Texas Corridor project. Next month, the Texas Department of Transportation plans to hold the final public hearings on the plan to build a super-highway up to four football fields wide, paralleling I-35, from the border with Mexico at Laredo, Texas, north to the Texas-Oklahoma border. The Texas DOT expects to have final federal approval by the summer of 2007, with construction of the first super-highway segment to begin shortly thereafter.
Also, as WND has reported, the Kansas City SmartPort plans to open a Mexican customs office as part of their “inland port” along I-35. A brochure on the website of the Kansas City SmartPort makes clear that the ultimate plan is to utilize deep-sea Mexican ports, such as Lazaro Cardenas, to unload containers from China and the Far East. The containers will then be brought into the U.S. by Mexican railroads and Mexican trucks, all headed north to Kansas City, where the containers could continue north or be routed east or west, as needed.
Since before the passage of NAFTA, a decision to allow Mexican trucks into the U.S. on a non-restricted basis has been hotly contested.
On June 7, 2004, the U.S. Supreme Court reached a unanimous decision in Department of Transportation v. Public Citizen, ruling that Mexican trucks under NAFTA could enter the U.S. freely, even if the Mexican trucks failed to meet environmental standards as set by state and federal law.
The decision effectively lifted a 1982 U.S. decision to ban Mexican trucks from U.S. roads, except for a 20-mile zone near the border. The ban had been kept in place by the Clinton administration, despite the passage of NAFTA in 1994, with provisions specifying that the Mexican truck moratorium would be lifted.
Still, thousands of Mexican trucks have not started rolling across the border yet. Why not?
The answer lies with the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration in the Department of Transportation. According to Section 350 of the Fiscal Year 2002 DOT appropriations act, the FMCSA must first certify that Mexican trucks applying for cross-border entry into the U.S. are safe for long-haul operations.
An Office of Inspector General audit published Jan. 3, 2005, indicating the FMCSA had not implemented the on-site inspections in Mexico.
As of September 2004, FMCSA had received applications from 678 Mexican motor carriers seeking long-haul authority to operate about 4,000 vehicles. This was up from 232 carriers that had applied as of March 2003, seeking authority to operate about 1,400 long-haul vehicles.
“Still, the procedures for FMCSA to conduct on-site safety reviews have not been worked out with Mexico under the terms of NAFTA,” the January 3, 2005, OIG report noted.
The Teamsters Union has fought NAFTA since the 1990s, concerned that the ultimate plan was to undermine union trucking as well as independent truckers who are owner-operators.
“With all the obstacles that still need to be overcome, our government must heed the OIG’s warnings from the January 2005 audit,” Galen Munroe, a spokesperson for the Teamsters Union told WND in an email. “The motor carriers in Mexico need to adhere to the same regulations and standards that our companies and drivers are subject to. Unfortunately, this seems to be a near impossible task with Mexico’s current infrastructure.”
The safety hazards being scrutinized by the FMCSA are in addition to ongoing environmental concerns. Commenting on the 2004 Supreme Court decision in Department of Transportation v. Public Citizen, legal analyst Noah Sachs noted the adverse consequences likely to follow this decision:
As a result of the ruling, thirty thousand or more Mexican trucks – which are generally older, more polluting, and less safe than their U.S. counterparts – will be allowed to conduct long haul trucking operations to locations across the United States.
Recent government studies estimate that eighty to ninety percent of the Mexican truck fleet was manufactured before 1994. In a preliminary environmental review, FMCSA concluded that their emissions “can be expected to translate into incremental increases in premature deaths” and “an enhanced incidence of respiratory diseases” in the United States. A 2002 U.S. EPA study reported a “persuasive” link between inhalation of diesel exhaust and cancer.
Meanwhile, the last remaining barriers to the open entry of Mexican trucks into the U.S. seems to be finalizing procedures for on-site safety inspections in Mexico prior to authorizing Mexican truck operators for long-haul entry into the U.S.
The results of the March 2006 OIG audit will indicated whether FMSCA has made any progress resolving these issues with Mexico in the past year.
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