On Nov. 28, Congressional negotiators and the White House reached a deal they say addresses the safety demands of the trucking industry but will allow Mexican trucks to operate beyond the commercial zone. The border rules controversy, complicated by the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, had been the primary sticking point in the passing of a $60 billion bill funding the Department of Transportation in fiscal year 2002.
``We are pleased that we have reached an agreement on Mexican trucks that retains the critical safety principles that are so important to the American people and to the 70 members of the United States Senate who supported them," said Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA), a lead negotiator on the issue and co-sponsor with Sen. Richard Shelby (R-AL) of an amendment passed by the Senate in August. The Murray-Shelby amendment called for tougher border rules than the White House proposed, drawing threat of veto and creating a deadlock.
Sens. John McCain (R-AZ) and Phil Gramm (R-TX), who supported the administration's stance, endorsed the compromise. Congressman Hal Rogers (R-KY) was also involved in the negotiations. Rogers called it a "fair deal" and said it met with the White House's approval. The agreement also was endorsed by Rep. Martin Olav Sabo (D-MN), who sponsored the outright ban passed by the House earlier this year.
Here are some key provisions of the agreement:
- The agreement calls for scales and weigh-in-motion equipment to be immediately placed at five border ports of entry and five more within a year. (The original Murray-Shelby amendment called for fixed scales and weigh-in-motion equipment to be installed at every border point.)
- The new agreement requires electronic verification of the license of every Mexican truckdriver crossing the border who is carrying high-risk cargo and verification of at least half of all other Mexican truckers every time they cross the border.
- Mexican trucking firms are to be subjected to rigorous onsite inspections before their trucks are allowed access to American highways, and requires every Mexican truck to undergo a physical inspection every 90 days to operate in the U.S.
- Once Mexican trucks are allowed to operate in the U.S., they will only be allowed to cross at those border crossings where inspectors are on duty and there is adequate capacity to conduct safety enforcement activities.
- The agreement requires comprehensive safety examinations of Mexican trucking firms before they are granted conditional authority and allowed into the U.S. These safety exams verify that Mexican trucking firms have a drug and alcohol-testing program, proof of insurance and drivers with clean driving records.
- The agreement prohibits any Mexican trucking firm from operating in the U.S. until the DOT Inspector General has conducted a thorough audit of the U.S. government's ability to enforce strict safety standards on all Mexican trucks crossing the border. Importantly, the agreement further prohibits any Mexican trucking firm from operating in the U.S. until the Secretary of Transportation, after reviewing the I.G.'s audit, certifies in writing that the opening of the border will not present an unacceptable safety risk.
"This was a very, very contentious issue politically and we are not surprised to see a compromise," said OOIDA's Todd Spencer. "But the border opening remains a critical truck safety consideration and a serious issue in terms of the possibility of potential abuse by terrorists acting to further their agenda. When will we see Mexican trucks operating beyond the commercial zones? Although the Bush administration wanted to see it happen by Jan.1, 2002, it's not likely we'll see it so soon given the requirements DOT must meet."