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NAFTA moves forward: Bush seeks open border by 2002

The United States has begun discussions with Mexico that would allow Mexican trucks to operate in any of the continental 48 states by 2002. This development is a result of the change in presidential administrations and a recent North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) arbitration panel decision.

The Clinton administration’s decision to keep the border closed prompted the Mexican government to lodge a complaint with a NAFTA arbitration panel. The panel decided that the United States was in violation of NAFTA by not opening all its territory to Mexican trucks. The Bush administration has expressed its intention to comply with NAFTA and the panel’s ruling.

On March 22, U.S. officials outlined a plan to Mexican officials whereby two sets of rules would be proposed. One set of rules would apply to Mexican trucks wishing to travel solely to the commercial zones of border states, and another set of rules would apply to Mexican trucks traveling into any part of the continental U.S. To meet an early 2002 deadline, implementing rules would be proposed and open to public comment this year.

Under NAFTA, Mexican trucks already are required to comply with all U.S. safety standards. The rules to be proposed will primarily focus on how the United States will ensure Mexican trucks’ compliance with safety standards.

On one side, powerful business interests in a position to benefit from NAFTA, including the American Trucking Associations, are pushing for the border to open. On the other side, opponents to the border opening are grassroots organizations such as OOIDA, the Teamsters, Citizens for Reliable and Safe Highways (CRASH) and a contingent of midwest representatives led by Congressman Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio). Opponents do not believe there is sufficient time to hire additional border inspectors or build the infrastructure that will be needed to enforce the rules effectively.

Environmental regulations: 
Diesel fuel and trucks targeted to reduce emissions

Two regulations from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) related to heavy-truck emissions have progressed recently. In a surprise to many, new EPA Administrator Christie Whitman decided to support the regulations that reduce the sulfur content of diesel fuel and impose tougher emissions standards on new heavy-duty trucks. The move was a surprise because the Bush administration was assumed to be putting the breaks on controversial rules that had been developed under the Clinton administration. This is not the case with these particular environmental regulations. President George W. Bush campaigned as an environmental moderate last year. It is believed that these rules were allowed to go forward in order to give the president’s statements on the environment some credibility.

Although part of a single effort, the EPA rule has two components: 1) sulfur content in fuel and 2) emissions of new heavy-duty trucks and buses.

The EPA claims that these proposals will make heavy trucks and buses more than 90 percent cleaner than they are today. The basis for the proposal is the implementation of “high-efficiency catalytic exhaust emission control devices” in new trucks. Because those systems are damaged by sulfur, the sulfur content in diesel fuel must be reduced.

The new standards for heavy-duty engines will be phased in between 2007 and 2010. From 2007 through 2009, 50 percent of the trucks sold must comply with the new standards, and by 2010, 100 percent of all trucks sold must comply. The EPA estimates that the new equipment will add $1,200 to $1,900 to the cost of a new truck.

There is no requirement in the EPA proposal that trucks made before the 2007 model year be retrofitted with this new technology. In March 2000, the EPA announced a plan to encourage the voluntary retrofitting of late-model trucks with cleaner technology. This program provides information to fleet owners about available emissions technology and informs clean air planners in states and localities of the benefits of retrofitting trucks. If you have access to the Internet, information regarding the voluntary retrofit program can be found athttp://www.epa.gov/otaq/retrofit/overview.htm.

With regard to diesel fuel, refiners must produce fuel with a reduced sulfur content that is available for sale by June 1, 2006. The sulfur content must be reduced from the current 500 parts per million (ppm) to 15 ppm. Critics of this proposal warn that the cost of refining diesel with such a low sulfur level would increase the cost of fuel by as much as 12 cents per gallon (the EPA claims the price will only increase as much as 5 cents per gallon).

Furthermore, critics in the oil industry say that it will be difficult for them to retrofit their refineries quickly, and immediate fuel shortages will be the result. In the final rule, the EPA tried to address those concerns by including “a combination of flexibilities available to refiners to ensure a smooth transition to low sulfur highway diesel fuel.” A series of credits and debits will be given to refineries as they make the transition to full compliance in 2009. Until then, up to 20 percent of the fuel produced may be of the old formula. That old formula fuel must be segregated from the new fuel and sold only to trucks made before model year 2007.

Uncertainty in today’s oil market apparently did not deter the EPA from going forward with this rule. As outlined in the previous “Washington Insider,” the Bush administration has proposed a national energy plan designed to reduce U.S. reliance on foreign oil. There could be a real problem if the low sulfur diesel rule were to go into effect at the same time that OPEC is manipulating supplies and prices in the oil market. Progress in reducing our reliance on foreign oil would be helpful in avoiding such a catastrophe.

At the Mid-America Trucking Show in Louisville, KY, more than 1,500 people signed a letter to their representative, senators and the president opposing the opening of the border to Mexican trucks. The letter is reproduced here.

 

Send a letter protesting the opening of the border to Mexican trucks

At the Mid-America Trucking Show in Louisville, KY, more than 1,500 people signed and wrote their address on the following letter protesting the opening of the border to Mexican trucks. You can copy this letter word for word or use it as a model to write your own letters to elected lawmakers and President Bush. Just make sure that your name and address are clearly printed on your letter (there is no need to type it), and mail a copy to your elected officials using the following addresses: [Fill in your elected official’s name where you see these brackets.]

The Honorable [Your Representative’s name here]
U.S. House of Representatives
Washington, DC 20515

The Honorable [Your Senator’s name here]
separate letter for each Senator]
U.S. Senate
Washington, DC 20510

The Honorable George W. Bush
President of the United States
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue
Washington, DC 20500

Dear [name here]

I am writing to ask that you maintain the current border restrictions on Mexican trucks until there is a system in place to ensure that they comply with U.S. safety laws.

This is a serious safety issue. I spend most of my time working on our nation’s roads and highways. Mexican trucks do not meet the same safety standards as we must in America. They threaten my safety and the safety of the motoring public.

There are many safety requirements that are placed upon U.S. truckers, but not on Mexican trucks. These include:

* weight limits on trucks
* a stringent physical examination
* periodic, random drug testing
* hours-of-service limits

In addition, enforcement officials in the U.S. can electronically verify who I am, verify the validity of my commercial driver’s license, verify the validity of my liability insurance, and see my driving record. There is no system in place to do this for Mexican drivers.

Without a comprehensive system in place to enforce the physical standards for a safe truck, the minimal requirements for a safe driver, or the ability to verify liability insurance, public safety on our highways is greatly compromised. Furthermore, it is simply unfair to U.S. businesses that Mexican drivers and motor carriers not face the same level of scrutiny as U.S. trucks, drivers, and motor carriers for the privilege of using U.S. roads.

Thank you for your attention to this matter. I eagerly await your reply.

Sincerely,