Groups file lawsuit to block cross-border program

| November 29, 2011

A lawsuit filed Nov. 23 seeks to block the U.S. Department of Transportation from opening the U.S. border to Mexican trucks through its cross-border pilot program. The International Brotherhood of Teamsters, Public Citizen and the Sierra Club challenged the program in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit.

“Opening the border to these dangerous, dirty trucks is an attack on highway safety, an attack on American truckers and warehouse workers, an attack on border security and an attack on our environment,” said Teamsters General President Jim Hoffa. “It’s outrageous enough that we’ve outsourced millions of jobs to foreign countries, but now we’re bringing foreign workers across the border into the United States to take our jobs. This is another pressure the American middle class doesn’t need. … Congress has repeatedly and overwhelmingly set tough safety conditions for any cross-border trucking program, and this one clearly doesn’t meet those conditions.”

The suit claims the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s pilot program:
• Waives a law that trucks must display certain proof that they meet federal safety standards;
• Breaks the law requiring the pilot program to achieve an equivalent level of safety because Mexican drivers don’t have to meet the same physical requirements as U.S. drivers;
• Breaks the law that Mexico must provide simultaneous and comparable access to U.S. trucks. Mexico cannot do so because of the limited availability of ultra-low-sulfur diesel fuel in Mexico, the suit alleges;
• Breaks the law that the pilot program must include enough participants to be statistically valid. The suit argues that FMCSA’s proposal ensures that only the best Mexican trucks participate, which would allow it to justify letting any Mexican truck over the border in the future; and;
• Doesn’t comply with the environment requirement of the National Environmental Policy Act.

Three Mexican carriers have been approved for program participation, with the third, Moises Alvarez Perez, recently clearing its Pre-Authority Screening Audit, according to the Federal Register. The first Mexican carrier approved for program participation, Transportes Olympic, made its first delivery under the program Oct. 20.

Leading opponents of the pilot program – including the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association, U.S. Reps. Bob Filner and Duncan Hunter, both of California, and the Teamsters union – united for a press conference near the border crossing prior to the program’s kickoff.

Hunter, a Republican, and Filner, a Democrat, are among 19 co-sponsors of the Protecting America’s Roads Act (H.R. 2407), which would end authority gained by Mexican carrier participants at the end of the program and bar paying for electronic monitoring of Mexican carrier participants with U.S. tax dollars. U.S. Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.) introduced the bill, which was referred to the Highways and Transit subcommittee July 7.

FMCSA has outlined steps it is taking or has taken to address issues raised by the Office of Inspector General’s Aug. 19 account to Congress of the program. Since that OIG report, FMCSA has developed and implemented a policy for conducting 50 percent of PASA and compliance reviews in Mexico. In a PASA review, the motor carrier must demonstrate it complies with requirements for drug and alcohol testing, hours of service, insurance, vehicle maintenance and inspections, and qualified drivers.

FMCSA noted that a key difference between the latest program and the previous demonstration project is that participating Mexican carriers must designate specific vehicles and drivers for long-haul transportation. The agency awarded the contract for electronic monitoring devices with the Global Positioning System it will require for Mexican carriers to Teletrac.

American Trucking Associations officials praised leaders in Mexico and the United States for their work to end the long-running dispute over cross-border trucking. In March, Mexico agreed to remove the remaining 50 percent of the $2.4 billion retaliatory tariffs against U.S. agricultural, consumer and other products five days after the program began.