Statement of Joan Claybrook, President of Public Citizen
In a stealthy maneuver, the Bush administration has boosted the threat to the public by increasing the number of Mexico-based trucking firms allowed access to all U.S. roads as part of the reckless North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) trucking "pilot program." The Department of Transportation recently revealed an increase in the number of NAFTA trucks permitted to all U.S. highways – now 10 carriers, sending as many as 55 trucks throughout the country.
The last time the Bush administration made a public announcement about the number of Mexico-based carriers allowed to participate in the NAFTA trucks pilot program, there were only three carriers.
It has long been the tradition by this administration to bury bad news like this by sending out press releases on Friday afternoon, but in this case, the Department of Transportation (DOT) reached a new low: not sending any press release at all, but simply updating a Web page.
Both houses of Congress have passed versions of the DOT spending bill that includes provisions to shut down this dangerous folly. Unfortunately for all members of the public who must travel every day on the nation's roads, the White House has threatened to veto the final bill. It is high time for President Bush to get out of the way and let the Senate vote on the final bill before any more lives are put at risk.
In 2001, a NAFTA tribunal ordered the U.S. to permit access to all U.S. roads for Mexico-domiciled trucking companies. The Clinton administration refused to comply with the NAFTA tribunal, citing serious safety and environmental concerns with Mexico's trucking fleet. The Bush administration has tried since 2002 to enforce the NAFTA order to open U.S. highways to unsafe trucks. Congress has intervened repeatedly to stop the Bush administration. In September, the Bush administration tried to meet NAFTA's dictates by launching a pilot program to allow up to 100 motor carriers from Mexico full access to U.S. highways. However, the project violates a 2001 congressional mandate that Mexico-domiciled trucking companies meet U.S. safety standards regarding hours of service, driver training and licensing, and vehicle safety before being allowed access to the nation's roadways.
A lawsuit filed by several groups, including Public Citizen, alleging that the pilot program doesn't meet congressional requirements is still pending in the Ninth Circuit.