Supreme Court paves way for Mexican truck crossings

The U.S. Supreme Court today ruled unanimously that the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) is not required to conduct a full environmental assessment on the impact of border-crossing Mexican trucks in context of the standards of the Clean Air Act (CAA), paving the way for the Bush administration’s bid to lift border sanctions imposed on Mexican motor carriers in accordance with NAFTA.

FMCSA had issued a proposed rule that would allow Mexican trucks to operate in the U.S. and determined that any emissions levels that would result would fall below the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) standards needed for a full review under the CAA.

Opponents to Mexican trucks operating here sought a full environmental review of the proposed FMCSA rule under the assertion that it violates the CAA. That argument was upheld by the Court of Appeals, finding the environmental assessment insufficient because it did not consider the effect of increased emissions as a result of the rule.

“Critically, that argument overlooks FMCSA’s inability to countermand the president’s lifting of the moratorium or otherwise categorically to exclude Mexican trucks from operating within the United States,” wrote Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas. “Once the regulations are promulgated, FMCSA will not be able to regulate any aspect of vehicle exhaust from those trucks.”

Bill Graves, president & CEO of American Trucking Associations, supported the ruling.

“Today’s decision represents another important step in the continued growth of the American economy and the trucking industry,” Graves said in a written statement. “The Supreme Court has opened the door for the continued improvement of the North American freight transportation system which will help increase trade between the U.S., Canada and Mexico in a safe, seamless manner.”

Martin Rojas, executive director for safety, security and operations, said Mexican carriers will now be allowed to move international freight across the U.S., pending the completion of the application process with FMCSA. When contacted, FMCSA was unable to comment on the application process.

“Mexican carriers will have to prove that their trucks meet the same environmental, safety, taxation and insurance standards that are implemented on U.S. carriers,” Rojas said.

Because Mexican carriers will comply with the same standards as U.S. carriers and environmental studies had already been in the pipeline, Rojas considers the ruling “evolutionary rather than revolutionary.”

With the door for border crossings now open for both Mexican and American carriers, ATA anticipates a positive impact on efficiency. Authorized carriers will be able to travel directly across the border compared with today’s current inefficiencies seen in the “three-truck process” for U.S.-Mexico freight.

Rojas does not anticipate any stiff competition between U.S. and Mexican carriers because they will be permitted to carry international— not domestic— freight only.

Currently, there are 500,000 trucking companies operating in the United States compared with approximately 7,800 in Mexico, Rojas said.

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