Sept. 7, 2007

Bush Administration Ignores Safety, Presses Ahead With Dangerous NAFTA Trucks Pilot Program

Statement of Joan Claybrook, President, Public Citizen

The Bush administration continues to ignore the safety of the American public with the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) trucks pilot program that it announced late last night would begin immediately.

Decisions this important should not be made in haste, and definitely not in the dark of night. The public learned of the administration’s decision in a hastily scheduled teleconference held at 9 p.m. Thursday, during which the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) announced that it would let loose Mexico-domiciled carriers on the public in a “demonstration project,” with trucks permitted to start crossing the border immediately. We are by now accustomed to the Bush administration trying to bury unpopular and controversial news like this by releasing it on Friday afternoon, but an announcement made at 9 p.m. – with only 30 minutes notice – is a new low.

Interestingly, the agency is barreling ahead with the pilot program before the public has had a chance to review the Department of Transportation inspector general’s report. During the call, FMCSA administrator John Hill declined to summarize the findings of the report, noting only that it identified three areas on which FMCSA needs to work, one of which was insufficient state enforcement of the federal motor carrier safety laws. Note that most enforcement occurs at the state level.

Further, states are already unable or unwilling to conduct border enforcement. A January 2005 inspector general’s report found that only four of 14 states surveyed were placing Mexico-based carriers out of service when they were found to be operating beyond the commercial zones. FMCSA’s public statements on state enforcement have tended to focus only on their ability to enforce — not whether they do enforce the law.

Opening U.S. borders despite insufficient inspection facilities and carrier safety performance data showcases the Bush administration’s persistent disregard for public safety and federal law requirements. In May, Congress approved provisions to ensure that the pilot program would not circumvent safety standards or congressional oversight. Lawmakers required   greater public disclosure of program details and more opportunity for public comment, and said that Mexico-based trucking companies must comply with all applicable U.S. laws and safety standards. The government has failed to meet these requirements.

The Bush administration has for years been pushing to give Mexico-domiciled carriers access to all U.S. highways despite safety and environmental concerns expressed by the safety community and lawmakers. The safety of American motorists is compromised under the pilot program, as FMCSA and the Bush administration prioritize ideological fealty to the failed NAFTA trade model over public safety.

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