SPECIAL REPORT: Cross-border opponents not deterred by extension

| 8/4/2008

Monday, Aug. 4, 2008 – The two-year extension of the cross-border trucking program with Mexico didn’t necessarily come as a big surprise and has done little to dampen the efforts of opponents of the program.

John Hill, administrator of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, announced a two-year extension of the program today. The DOT originally set the program to conclude on Sept. 6.

“Unfortunately, (the extension) was not really unexpected,” said Todd Spencer, executive vice president of the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association. “When it comes to this program, the administration has flouted the will of Congress and certainly the will of the American people and has callous disregard for America’s trucking industry.”

Hill said one reason for the extension was that a number of companies were unwilling to participate in the program because of the uncertainties swirling around the project’s longevity.

Some of that uncertainty can be tied to widespread opposition from a number of groups including everyone from Congress down to highway user groups such as OOIDA.

The program has continued for 11 months despite an ongoing court challenge by OOIDA; a funding cut passed by Congress and signed into law; and numerous other Congressional votes in favor of shutting the program down.

In the face of all of this opposition, not only have DOT officials forged ahead with the program – they have now extended it.

“The administration has shown time and again that when it comes to this program they are willing to run roughshod over Congress and the American public,” said Spencer.

“Where we are now, is that these are the very last few months of this administration and they’re going to do everything they can, everything possible, to follow through on the promises they’ve made. And, it’s not promises they’ve made to poor truckers in Mexico. It’s promises made to global economic interests that see a profit in this.”

Now, with what was supposed to be just a little more than a month of life left in the program, it sustained yet another blow. The most recent hit came with passage of a bill in the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee this past week.

That is something OOIDA leadership was happy to see.

“We kept raising this issue with lawmakers in the weeks leading up to this recess, because we thought (the DOT) would do something leading up to Sept. 6, the anniversary of the start of this program,” Spencer said.

The bill not only seeks to mandate the end of the program on its one-year anniversary – Sept. 6 – but also goes much further. The bipartisan effort would also restrict any more authority to operate beyond the border zones from being doled out to Mexican motor carriers without prior approval from Congress.

Members of the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee approved the bill unanimously on a voice vote this past week.

The sponsors of the legislation – Rep. Peter DeFazio, D-OR; along with co-sponsors Rep. James Oberstar, D-MN; Rep. John Mica, R-FL; and Rep. John J. Duncan Jr., R-TN – introduced the bill and fast-tracked it through committee to have it ready for a full House vote after the August recess.

The fact that the announcement of program’s extension happened just after Congress recessed for August was not lost on the program’s opponents.

“Announcing this on the first day of the recess is unfortunately par for the course with them. Sorry for the cliché, but it’s bush league tactics,” Spencer said.

The chairman of the T&I Committee also lashed out at the announcement, quickly issuing a statement Monday, Aug. 4, taking the DOT to task.

“Just days after the Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure has approved a bipartisan bill to hold DOT to its original plan and terminate this pilot program after one year, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration announces its intent to extend this program for two more years,” Oberstar said in a written statement. “It also made the announcement on the first day of the congressional recess. That is certainly no coincidence.”

The timing of FMCSA’s announcement did little to dampen Oberstar’s determination to move the bill through the House quickly.

“When Congress reconvenes in September, I intend to move our bill as quickly as possible, and make certain that the voice of Congress is heard loud and clear at the Department of Transportation, and that this program is finally shut down,” he said in his written statement.

The current legislative effort isn’t the only thing that could shut down the cross-border program. A decision on a pair of lawsuits filed with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit in San Francisco could also mean an end for the program.

OOIDA’s legal team filed one of the lawsuits on Sept. 7, 2007 – literally the day after the cross-border program started. The case was argued Feb. 12 before a three-judge panel.

To read more on OOIDA’s court challenge, click here and here.

Various media outlets have speculated for months that a decision could be handed down by the 9th Circuit “any day” now.

As for now, opponents such as OOIDA are prepared to continuing fighting the program.

“We have to continue to do the best we can to keep pushing – pushing lawmakers and pushing the administration – all while hoping for the best from California and the courts,” Spencer said.

– By Jami Jones, senior editor
Staff Writer Reed Black contributed to this report.