- The Washington Times - Friday, January 17, 2003

A federal appeals court blocked Mexican trucks from gaining wider access to U.S. highways yesterday, saying the government should review the effect on air quality.
The decision by the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco came after labor, trucking industry and environmental groups challenged a November order by President Bush opening the roads, required under the North America Free Trade Agreement.
The three-judge panel said the U.S. Department of Transportation acted "arbitrarily and capriciously" by not preparing a full environmental impact statement as required by federal law.
"It really is a resounding victory for the environment," said Jonathan Weissglass, attorney for the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, a member of the coalition that challenged the Bush administration policy. Other members include the Environmental Law Foundation, the California Federation of Labor and the California Trucking Association.
The Justice Department is reviewing the ruling, said White House spokeswoman Claire Buchan. No decision has been made on whether to appeal.
Mexican Embassy officials said they have not prepared a response to the ruling.
The Teamsters union argued that Mexican trucks typically are older and more polluting than American trucks. Although U.S. and Mexican air standards for diesel trucks are the same, U.S. regulations are scheduled to become tougher in 2004 and 2007, while Mexico's are not.
Congress in 1982 said the United States no longer would accept applications from Mexican-based operators to work outside of a narrow commercial zone along the border. Under NAFTA, signed in 1992, the United States was supposed to drop the moratorium in phases between 1995 and 2000 but held back, citing safety concerns.
The Bush administration in November opened the way for Mexican companies to begin hauling cargo and passengers throughout the United States, fulfilling U.S. obligations under NAFTA and allowing Mexican-based truck and bus service into the lower 48 states.
After Mr. Bush's order, the Transportation Department received applications from Mexican carriers and bus companies, but none of their vehicles has begun traveling on U.S. highways.
Yesterday's ruling was a blow to the Bush administration and U.S. trucking companies, which could benefit from lower labor costs using Mexican trucks for cross-border deliveries.
Mexican truck drivers would compete with the 65,000 Teamsters who drive trucks for Yellow Corp., Roadway Corp. and other U.S. truckers.
"In a rush to open the border, the administration failed to pay attention to the health concerns of U.S. citizens," Teamsters President James Hoffa said.
Roadway Corp. spokesman John Hyre said his company had no plans to switch to cheaper Mexican drivers, even before the court ruling yesterday.
"We didn't anticipate making any changes based on the opening of the border," Mr. Hyre said. The company uses union drivers, primarily Teamsters.
This story is based in part on wire service reports.

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