- The Washington Times - Saturday, August 18, 2007

The Bush administration yesterday said it intends to go ahead with a pilot project that will allow up to 100 Mexico-based trucking companies to operate in the U.S. beyond border states.

Most Mexican trucking companies are allowed to operate only within border commercial zones extending about 25 miles into the U.S.

The pilot project, aimed at proving Mexican carriers can operate safely beyond border zones, is an attempt to implement a 2001 order under the North American Free Trade Agreement requiring highways in Canada, Mexico and the United States to be open to trucking companies in all three countries.

The project would allow up to 100 Mexican carriers to operate throughout the U.S. for a year and up to 100 U.S. carriers to operate in Mexico for the same period.

The Transportation Department’s Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration announced in the Federal Register yesterday that it will proceed with the project once the department’s inspector general completes a report to Congress and the agency addresses the IG’s concerns, and once the Mexican government opens its roads to U.S. trucks. The announcement also responded to comments on the proposal, announced in May.

The announcement was immediately criticized by groups that were part of a coalition that sued to stop the project in April based on environmental and safety grounds.

Teamsters General President James P. Hoffa said it was “outrageous, yet not surprising, that the Bush administration would announce on a Friday during Congress” August recess that it plans to recklessly move forward with its hugely unpopular program to throw open our border to unsafe Mexican trucks.”

Mr. Hoffa accused the administration of taking “the opportunity presented by the August recess to foist this foolhardy, dangerous plan onto the American people.”

The Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association, which represents truckers, said it was disappointed to learn the program was set to begin, but not surprised.

The administration, association Executive Vice President Todd Spencer said, is “determined to open our highways to Mexico-domiciled trucking companies and truck drivers regardless of the concerns raised by Congress and the American people.”

Consumer group Public Citizen was also critical.

“Once again,” Robert Shull, deputy director of the organization’s auto safety group, said, “the Bush administration is brazenly pushing forward on the NAFTA Trucks Pilot Program without regard for the law and without giving the public adequate time to review and respond to its latest plan. Additionally, the DOT has not fully complied with the legal requirements demanded by Congress to ensure the public would be protected during this ill-advised experiment.”

Mr. Shull also criticized the timing of the announcement, saying, “It’s another glaring example of the administration’s underhanded methods by making this controversial announcement on a Friday in August in an attempt to bring as little attention as possible to its latest assault on public safety.”

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