Lawmakers lash back at cross-border plan

| 4/29/2011

Questions of legal authority, irresponsible spending and national security plagued the newly unveiled plan to open the border to long-haul trucks, even as the DOT pushed forward and officially published the plan.

The Department of Transportation released a plan on Friday, April 8, that published in the Federal Register on Wednesday, April 13. The 30-day comment period is set to end on Friday, May 13.

The Obama administration’s plan to phase in a cross-border program that would result in permanent operating authority drew immediate fire from one U.S. lawmaker.

Rep. Peter DeFazio, D-OR, sent a letter to U.S. Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood that requests “written justification of how DOT’s planned program complies with the requirements for pilot programs.”

DeFazio, working from preliminary details, wrote the letter calling for the justification nearly a month before the DOT unveiled the plan.

DeFazio’s letter questions the legal authority of DOT to implement a permanent program.

“A true pilot program should grant a discrete number of Mexican carriers the opportunity to operate beyond the commercial zones at the U.S.-Mexico border. The U.S. government would strictly monitor the operations of these carriers, and at the end of the pilot program, suspend any further operations while evaluating the results,” DeFazio wrote in his letter to LaHood.

“Instead … (the) DOT will grant Mexican carriers the same provisional operating authority it grants any new U.S. motor carrier seeking interstate authority. After 18 months, this authority becomes permanent indefinitely, provided the carrier does not have an egregious safety record or a lapse in insurance.”

DeFazio also pointed out that those motor carriers that participated in the previous cross-border program will get credit for the time they completed in the program.

“This means that some carriers will receive permanent authority almost immediately,” he wrote to LaHood.

The letter was sent just one week after the announcement that an agreement with Mexico was close. DeFazio also asked for LaHood to provide DeFazio with the specific legal authority the Department is relying on to spend Highway Trust Fund money to implement the pilot program and to purchase equipment to be used and retained by Mexican carriers.

“Taxpayers should not have to foot the bill for the Mexican trucking industry to comply with American safety standards,” DeFazio said in a press release. “It is outrageous that we would spend tax dollars to pay for equipment on Mexican trucks, equipment which either the Mexican government or the Mexican carriers themselves should be required to pay.”

According to DeFazio, the agency spent $1.25 million on EOBRs for 27 carriers under the previous pilot program – and the Mexican trucking companies were allowed to keep the devices.

“I also understand that, as outlined in the president’s fiscal year 2012 budget request, FMCSA plans to use $4.3 million … of its general operating expenses to implement the program,” DeFazio wrote to LaHood.

“It is outrageous that U.S. truckers, through the fuel tax, will subsidize the cost of doing business for these Mexican carriers,” DeFazio wrote.

Hunter calls for unified front
Immediately following the announcement of the plan, Rep. Duncan Hunter, R-CA, ramped up his efforts to rally opposition to the cross-border plan in the U.S. House of Representatives.

Hunter penned a letter to U.S. Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood opposing the program and outlining a number of concerns. He is calling on other members of the House to sign on to the letter to show their opposition to the program.

“Over the years, Congress has demonstrated its opposition to this ill-advised program. In 2007, votes were taken to require safety related restrictions to the pilot program and, in 2009, the pilot program was terminated by Congress,” Hunter wrote in the letter. “While we understand the need to work to remove the unfair tariffs that Mexico has imposed on U.S. agriculture products as a result, doing so should not come at the expense of the safety of our highways.”

The letter details concerns with the DOT’s ability to manage the program and with giving the cartels long-haul access to the U.S.

“Setting up a program that allows Mexican long-haul trucks to cross the border and move freely throughout the U.S. could increase this method of smuggling by the drug cartels and serve as a resource for their criminal activity,” Hunter wrote.

Comment period
To issue comments to the official docket, you have a few options. Comments must be identified by docket number FMCSA-2011-0097, and submitted by any one of the following methods:

            U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT)
            1200 New Jersey Ave. SE.
            West Building, Ground Floor, Room 12–140
            Washington, DC 20590–0001.

  • Hand Delivery: Same as mail address, between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m., ET, Monday through Friday, except Federal holidays.

To avoid duplication of comments, submit comments to the docket through only one of the four ways outlined above. Comments are due by Friday, May 13.