Groups Seek to Halt Bush Administration From Allowing Environmentally Unsafe Trucks from Mexico on U.S. Highways

May 1, 2002

Groups Seek to Halt Bush Administration From Allowing Environmentally Unsafe Trucks from Mexico on U.S. Highways

Lawsuit by Public Interest, Labor and Environmental Groups Shows New Evidence of Health Risks from Air Pollution

Claiming the Bush Administration has failed to address environmental health concerns for Mexico-domiciled truck emissions, an environmental, labor and industry coalition led by Public Citizen, the Environmental Law Foundation 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 plaintiffs are seeking an emergency injunction to prevent proposed federal regulations from becoming effective on May 3, 2002.

The lawsuit 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 2002, including many older, pre-1994 trucks that are the most egregious polluters.
  • Within ten years, diesel emissions from US trucks will be dramatically reduced due to new engine and fuel standards; no legislation is pending in Mexico to require Mexico-domiciled trucks to meet the same or even similar standards.
  • Trucks from Mexico may not be covered by a settlement that requires U.S. trucks to remove “defeat devices” that enabled them to test clean at inspection sites but run dirty on the open road.

According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), “diesel exhaust is likely to be carcinogenic in humans by inhalation.” Diesel exhaust has also been linked to birth defects, asthma and premature death.

“By failing to accurately assess the true environmental impact of allowing these trucks from Mexico throughout the United States, the Administration has put the health of millions of Americans at greater risk,” said Joan Claybrook, President of Public Citizen.

The plaintiffs are challenging the Bush Administration?s “finding of no significant impact,” or FONSI prepared concerning these trucks and seeking an injunction requiring the Administration to conduct an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS). The EIS would address the significant public health concerns about these trucks before they are allowed throughout the country.

The lawsuit, which was filed in a San Francisco federal court, points to a new study that raises serious questions about the public health impact of allowing these environmentally unsafe trucks from Mexico to drive throughout the United States. For example, the study shows, by the year 2010, these trucks 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 United States today. Nitrogen oxides are dangerous because they help form ozone, which is a?strong irritant to the lungs and eyes. At high concentrations, ozone causes shortness of breath, and aggravates asthma, emphysema and other conditions.

The suit claims that the Bush Administration disregarded key 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 study was conducted by Sierra Research Inc., a Sacramento, Calif.-based company.

According to the Sierra report, the Bush Administration?s Environmental Assessment failed to:

  • Consider the long-term effects on U.S. air quality because it looked only at data for the year 2002. The disparity between the emissions rates of U.S. and Mexico-domiciled trucks will increase as tougher U.S.-EPA standards take effect in the years ahead.
  • Take into account specific emission differences between U.S. and Mexico-domiciled trucks. For instance, the emissions rates of Mexico-domiciled trucks for oxides of nitrogen (NOx) and particulate matter (PM) will be higher than U.S. trucks over a 20-year period.
  • Assess the effects of more inspections on air quality. Increased number and duration of inspections will heighten the amount of emissions at these inspection sites.
  • Look at the effects of increased emissions on local areas and instead focused exclusively on a national scale. This is particularly significant since the trucks would cause increased emissions in communities that are already above existing air quality standards. In the interests of accuracy and fairness, air quality evaluations are usually confined to smaller, more specific geographical areas.

“In light of new concerns over air quality and the Bush Administration?s refusal to comply with NEPA and the Clean Air Act, we believe a full environmental review is necessary before these trucks are allowed on U.S. highways,” said James Wheaton, President, Environmental Law Foundation. The plaintiffs are calling on the Administration to comply with NEPA and the Clean Air Act by conducting an EIS and a conformity determination — an EPA-administered emissions test for mobile vehicles. California State Attorney General Bill Lockyer filed a friend of the court brief in support of the plaintiff?s request for an injunction.

“Commercial trucks from Mexico will not meet this country?s tougher emissions standards,” said James P. Hoffa, General President, International Brotherhood of Teamsters. “We should make sure that these trucks are safe and in full compliance with the same clean air rules that we hold American trucks to before we allow them to travel throughout the Southwest and elsewhere that already suffer from poor air quality.”

Many urban areas in the U.S., including Los Angeles, San Diego, Houston, Dallas/Ft. Worth, El Paso and San Francisco, are currently in non-attainment with the National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS) for ozone and/or particulate matter. New, more stringent air standards will make it even more difficult for these communities to comply with the law if these trucks from Mexico began arriving in their present form.

In addition to Public Citizen, the International Brotherhood of Teamsters (IBT) and the Environmental Law Foundation (ELF), other plaintiffs in the suit include the California Federation of Labor AFL-CIO and the California Trucking Association. The plaintiffs are represented by Milberg, Weiss, Bershad, Hynes and Lerach LLP and Altshuler, Berzon, Nussbaum, Rubin & Demain.

“Diesel kills,” said Al Meyerhoff, lead attorney for the plaintiffs. “Older trucks from Mexico, due to their dangerously high emission rates, present a clear and present risk to public health.”

Click here for a copy of the complaint, the press release, the Sierra Research study ? including maps, and a fact sheet (see cross-border trucking).

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