Despite congressional opposition, the Bush administration is fully committed to beginning within weeks a pilot test that will allow Mexican trucks to operate freely across the U.S.

A spokesman for the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, Ian Grossman, told WND the agency plans to grant the first authority for a Mexican trucking company to operate its long-haul rigs throughout the U.S. as early as the end of this month.

WND previously reported an amendment introduced by Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., into the Fiscal Year 2007 Supplemental Appropriations Bill is designed to block the Department of Transportation’s pilot test until the Mexican government authorizes U.S. trucking companies to operate in Mexico.

WND also reported Rep. Duncan Hunter, R-Calif., has introduced the NAFTA Trucking Safety Act, designed to block the test until current FMSCA regulations regarding Mexican trucks operating beyond commercial zones along the international border are clarified and strengthened.

The Mexican trucking company can begin operating trucks in the U.S. immediately, once the FMCSA grants the authority, Grossman told WND.

Grossman explained granting authority to the 100 Mexican trucking companies specified under the DOT pilot test may take between four to six months to complete.

“The department is committed to moving forward with this program,” he said, “and will continue to work with members of Congress to address their concerns.”

Reaction from the Teamsters Union was immediate and sharp.

“The Department of Transportation can’t enforce truck safety in the United States, let alone at the southern border,” spokeswoman Leslie Miller told WND. “The Bush administration continues to show a reckless disregard for the will of Congress and the American people who oppose this illegal pilot project.”

Rod Nofzinger, spokesman for the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association, was equally critical.

“Unfortunately, the administration is bound and determined to move forward with their Mexican trucking program despite the serious concerns that have been raised by the American public, Mexico-domiciled trucking companies and lawmakers on Capital Hill, both Republicans and Democrats alike,” Nofzinger told WND.

“I have little doubt that they want to beat Congress to the finish line on this,” Nofzinger continued. “They know that once the toothpaste is out of the tube, it’s awfully hard to get it back in. Once Mexican trucks start rolling throughout the U.S., it will be very difficult for Congress and the American people to turn them back, regardless of the safety and security risks that they’ll be carrying with them.”

Hunter also was critical of the FMCSA decision to begin implementing the Mexican truck pilot test immediately.

The congressman’s spokesman, Joe Kasper, told WND Hunter has significant concerns about the program.

“Congressman Hunter maintains that compliance and enforcement standards must be clarified and strengthened before the pilot program is implemented,” Kasper said. “Congressman Hunter will utilize the program’s impending implementation as an opportunity to promote and continue highlighting the importance of the NAFTA Trucking Safety Act.”

Responding to the congressional concerns, Grossman said Transportation Secretary Norman Mineta had certified in 2002 that DOT met each of the 22 safety requirements Congress in the Fiscal Year 2002 DOT Appropriations Bill demanded be met before allowing trucks from Mexico to drive beyond U.S. commercial zones along the border.

Kasper disagreed, insisting Mineta’s certification was not enough.

“We need public disclosure of the safety requirements and public debate, including a DOT filing in the Federal Register before we approve this test,” Kasper told WND.

“While the NAFTA Trucking Safety Act restates the safety conditions included in the FY2002 appropriations measure,” Kasper continued, “the legislation goes further by requiring the implementation of English proficiency standards and data base accessibility for law enforcement officials to verify a driver’s identification and criminal history.”

Hunter’s NAFTA Trucking Safety Act has been referred to several House committees, including House Transportation and Infrastructure; Homeland Security; Judiciary; and Ways and Means.

According to Kasper, the NAFTA Trucking Safety Act has collected 18 co-sponsors.

Asked to comment on the Feinstein amendment or Hunter’s NAFTA Trucking Safety Act, Grossman told WND the FMCSA “was engaging in no speculation on the course of possible congressional legislation” regarding the Mexican truck pilot test.

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