At least three justices appeared to agree with
the Bush administration’s desire to allow Mexican trucks to travel U.S.
highways, even though an appeals court earlier ruled the administration didn’t
perform effective environmental studies.
For the administration, the
case is about preserving the president's authority to negotiate treaties – in
this case, the North American Free Trade Agreement.
challenging the administration’s view, the case is about protecting Americans
from smog caused by Mexican trucks that burn dirtier fuel. Opponents also say
they want to protect motorists from trucks that don't meet U.S. safety
standards and protect U.S. truckers' jobs.
William Rehnquist said April 21 the appeals court's ruling "seems a very
doubtful proposition," according to news accounts.
Scalia said DOT’s job was to be a safety regulator. He questioned why the
agency should perform an environmental review just because it had decided
Mexican trucks were safe.
Meanwhile, Justice David
Souter said the DOT had discretion over trucks, based on safety, not environmental,
factors. He wondered if the groups
sought to "find a safety hook" to keep out older trucks to minimize
A decision is expected by July. Until then,
Mexican truckers will continue to be restricted to a roughly 20-mile commercial
zone north of the U.S.-Mexico border and forced to offload to U.S. carriers to
get their goods to the country's interior.
In briefs filed with the court, U.S. Solicitor
General Ted Olson, representing the Bush administration, urged the justices to
throw out last year's decision of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San
That court sided with the environmentalists,
ruling that the Transportation Department had violated two federal laws — the
National Environmental Policy Act and the Clean Air Act — by failing to assess
the environmental impact of allowing the Mexican truck fleet into America and
by making it harder for states to comply with federal clean air standards.
The 9th Circuit ordered the department to begin
the environmental assessment, which it did, while continuing to appeal. The
study is expected to be completed within the next year.