SPECIAL REPORT: Cross-border program faces tough, new challenge

| 5/2/2007

Wednesday, May 2, 2007 – Two pieces of legislation aimed at putting a leash on the Department of Transportation’s cross-border trucking program were brought together Wednesday, thanks to an amendment introduced by Rep. Peter DeFazio.

During a mark-up of the “Safe American Roads Act of 2007” by the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, member voted unanimously to accept an amendment that was basically a substitute for the full bill.

The amendment introduced by the Oregon Democrat brought together two bills already being considered in the House. One was the original version of the “Safe American Roads Act of 2007,” introduced by Rep. Nancy Boyda, D-KS. The second bill, “The NAFTA Trucking Safety Act,” was introduced by Rep. Duncan Hunter, R-CA.

Praise for both Boyda and Hunter was voiced by several lawmakers during the comment period before approving the amendment. Their leadership in challenging the Department of Transportation’s mad rush to open the border was praised by the likes of Committee Chairman James Oberstar, D-MN, DeFazio and others.

“We have borrowed heavily from the Hunter bill,” Oberstar told committee members.

In putting together the amendment to substitute the Boyda bill, language from Hunter’s bill including English language proficiency enforcement, certification of all provisions of Section 350 and the limitation or prohibition of cabotage were included.

“The marrying of these two bills gives lawmakers one very strong, distinct bill to support throughout the rest of the legislative process,” OOIDA’s Director of Government Affairs Rod Nofziger said.

“This is truly Democracy in action,” he went on to say. “This is the epitome of a bi-partisan effort in the House of Representatives.”

The new version of a “Safe American Roads Act of 2007,” which is HR1773, seeks to impose several new restrictions on the Bush administration’s cross-border program.

For example, the bill calls for an independent review panel to oversee the program. If at any time during the program the panel determines the program is having an adverse effect on motor carrier safety, the panel can recommend modifications or termination of the program. The DOT has only five days to take action on the recommendations or end the program.

There will also be a limit on how many trucks will be allowed in from Mexico if HR1773 passes. The cross-border program will still be open to 100 Mexican motor carriers. Those motor carriers just won’t be able to operate more than 1,000 trucks in the U.S.

DeFazio’s replacement bill also looks to take the guesswork out of whether the Department of Transportation has complied with all of Section 350 of the 2002 transportation appropriations legislation.

Section 350 outlined 22 conditions that the DOT had to meet before allowing Mexico-domiciled motor carriers to operate in the U.S. The OIG only had to independently verify eight of those conditions. The DOT just had to certify they were ready on the remaining 14.

If HR1773 passes, the OIG will have to independently verify the remaining 14 conditions.

The bill now waits for full House consideration.

– By Jami Jones, senior editor