SPECIAL REPORT: Supreme Court on Mexican trucks - come on in

| 6/8/2004

The U.S. Supreme Court June 7 said the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration is not required to conduct a full study of the environmental impact of Mexican trucks operating within the United States – thereby paving the way for their entry onto U.S. highways.

The court’s decision was unanimous.

Mexican trucks have been banned from all U.S. roads outside a 20-mile commercial border zone since 1982. But under NAFTA, signed in 1993 by the United States, Mexico and Canada, Mexican trucks and buses were given full access to U.S. roads beginning in 2000.

Since then, various court challenges have stalled the entry of Mexican trucks.

For environmentalists, the case was about protecting Americans from smog caused by Mexican trucks that burn dirtier fuel. Opponents also said they want to protect motorists from trucks that don't meet U.S. safety standards and protect U.S. truckers' jobs.

But, as Land Line reported, it appeared inevitable last month that Mexican trucks would be allowed access to U.S. highways beyond commercial zones.

For example, Chief Justice William Rehnquist said an appeals court's ruling that backed environmental claims "seems a very doubtful proposition."

Moreover, Justice Antonin 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.

Justice David Souter said the DOT had discretion over trucks based on safety, not environmental, factors. He wondered whether the groups sought to "find a safety hook" to keep out older trucks to minimize environmental damage.

Opponents to Mexican trucks operating here sought a full environmental review of the proposed FMCSA rule under the assertion that it violates the Clean Air Act. That argument was upheld by the Court of Appeals, finding the environmental assessment insufficient because it did not consider the effect of increased emissions as a result of the rule.

"Critically, that argument overlooks FMCSA's inability to countermand the president's lifting of the moratorium or otherwise categorically to exclude Mexican trucks from operating within the United States," wrote Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas. "Once the regulations are promulgated, FMCSA will not be able to regulate any aspect of vehicle exhaust from those trucks."

--by Dick Larsen, senior editor

Dick Larsen can be reached at dick_larsen@landlinemag.com.