Groups Seek Emergency Court Stay to Stop Bush Administration from Allowing Environmentally Unsafe Trucks from Mexico on U.S. Highways

Dec. 2, 2002

Groups Seek Emergency Court Stay to Stop Bush Administration from Allowing Environmentally Unsafe Trucks from Mexico on U.S. Highways

Administration Action Could Give Trucks Full Access in December, Public Interest, Labor and Environmental Groups Ask Court to Demand a Study of Trucks’ Impact on Air Quality

San Francisco — Claiming the Bush Administration has failed to address environmental health concerns for Mexico-domiciled truck emissions, an environmental, labor and industry coalition including the Environmental Law Foundation, Public Citizen and the International Brotherhood of Teamsters today took legal action to prevent the Bush Administration from allowing Mexico-domiciled trucks on highways throughout the United States. The petitioners are seeking an emergency stay from the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco to prevent the Bush Administration from processing applications from Mexico-domiciled trucks to operate throughout the U.S. until the Administration completes a full review of the impact the trucks will have on air quality.

On Thanksgiving eve – November 27 – the Bush Administration lifted the moratorium on Mexico-domiciled trucks traveling throughout the United States and directed the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) to immediately begin processing the approximately 130 applications from Mexican truck companies. Unless the court intervenes, trucks from Mexico can be expected to have full access to the United States this month. The only remaining step the government has to take is to publish a 10-day notice of its intent to approve trucking company permit applications.

According to today’s court filing:

“Upon approval of the applications, high-polluting heavy-duty diesel vehicles from Mexico will begin traveling throughout the United States…. The whole point of conducting the environmental reviews is to allow the government to take environmental effects into account before making the operative decision and putting it into effect.”

“As a matter of law, the Administration is required to first assess the environmental consequences before allowing tens of thousand of these trucks into the American heartland,” said Al Meyerhoff, a partner at Milberg Weiss Bershad Hynes & Lerach LLP, and an attorney for the petitioners. “Increases in air pollution, especially from older, largely unregulated vehicles, present increased risks of asthma, cancer and other respiratory ills.”

The petitioners filed a lawsuit in May against the Administration for disregarding requirements of the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) and the Clean Air Act in its efforts to allow these trucks access to all U.S. highways. The suit has been placed on an expedited schedule, and was argued in the Ninth Circuit in October. The petitioners are requesting an emergency stay because the Bush Administration is taking action without giving the court the opportunity to rule on the case.

“Increased trade with Mexico should not and need not come at the cost of human health. We will take all steps necessary to ensure U.S. environmental standards are vigorously enforced,” said Jonathan Weissglass, an associate at Altshuler, Berzon, Nussbaum, Rubin & Demain, and an attorney for the petitioners.

The petitioners have challenged the Bush Administration’s “finding of no significant impact,” or FONSI, prepared on the regulations that will allow Mexico-domiciled trucks throughout the United States. According to the lawsuit, the Administration’s environmental review was inadequate because it didn’t take into account the disparity between emission rates of U.S. and Mexico-domiciled trucks. The Bush Administration also only reviewed the impacts on a national scale, ignoring more concentrated potential impacts on cities along major trucking routes.

The lawsuit filed claims that trucks from Mexico will dramatically increase U.S. air pollution because:

  • At least 30,000 Mexico-domiciled diesel trucks are set to enter the U.S. in the next year alone, including many older, pre-1994 trucks that are the most egregious polluters.
  • A study shows, by the year 2010, trucks from Mexico will emit twice as much particulate matter and nitrogen oxides as U.S. trucks. Fine particulate matter is considered to be the largest environmental public health problem in the U.S. today and nitrogen oxides help form ozone, which can aggravate asthma and emphysema.
  • There is no system in place to systematically inspect the emissions of trucks coming over the border from Mexico.
  • Trucks from Mexico may not be covered by a 1998 settlement between the government and trucking manufacturers that requires U.S. trucks to remove “defeat devices” which enabled them to test clean at inspection sites but run dirty on the open road.

In addition to the International Brotherhood of Teamsters (IBT), Public Citizen and the Environmental Law Foundation (ELF), other petitioners in the suit include the California Federation of Labor, AFL-CIO and the California Trucking Association. Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) has intervened in support of the petitioners. California Attorney General Bill Lockyer is participating in the lawsuit as a friend of the court in support of petitioners. The petitioners are represented by Milberg, Weiss, Bershad, Hynes & Lerach LLP and Altshuler, Berzon, Nussbaum, Rubin & Demain.

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A copy of the court filing will be available on www.milberg.com.