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Public Citizen Applauds Court Ruling that DOT Erred in Opening Border to Mexican Trucks Without Studying Environmental Impacts

Jan. 16, 2003

Public Citizen Applauds Court Ruling that DOT Erred in Opening Border to Mexican Trucks Without Studying Environmental Impacts

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Public Citizen today hailed the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals’ ruling that the Bush administration violated federal environmental law by opening the border to Mexico-domiciled trucks without first reviewing the possible environmental impacts. The administration had announced last November it was opening U.S. highways to long-haul trucks from Mexico in order to comply with the North American Free Trade Agreement.

“We’ve said all along, and the court now agrees, that the Bush administration broke U.S. environmental law in its rush to comply with the flawed NAFTA,” said Public Citizen President Joan Claybrook. “This is a key decision, because it makes clear that trade agreements like NAFTA do not trump domestic laws. We must be able to respond to public health and safety threats within our borders.”

Ruling in Public Citizen et.al. vs. U.S. Department of Transportation, the 9th Circuit said the government must complete an Environmental Impact Statement under the National Environmental Policy Act and a Conformity Statement under the Clean Air Act before it can enact rules that must be issued before it gets funds to process applications from Mexican truckers. These rules, invalidated by the court’s ruling until an EIS is completed, are required to be issued by the appropriations provision authored by Sens. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) and Richard Shelby (R-Ala.) and passed by Congress in December 2001.

The court said: “Although we agree with the importance of the United States’ compliance with its treaty obligations … such compliance cannot come at the cost of violating United States law.”

The court said the government should study the impact of increased air emissions on border-state communities. Cities like Houston and Los Angeles are already choked with smog and struggling to reduce pollution to meet the demands of the Clean Air Act. The ruling says that because the DOT’s actions would have an impact on those areas, the agency had to produce information on those impacts and, where needed, develop plans to ameliorate the anticipated harm.

“This is an important victory for Texas because about 65 percent of all U.S.-Mexico truck traffic goes over the Texas border,” said Tom “Smitty” Smith, director of Public Citizen’s Texas office. “The emissions from these trucks would have had a significant effect on air quality in San Antonio, Austin, Houston and Dallas.”

Plaintiffs in the lawsuit were Public Citizen, the Brotherhood of Teamsters, Auto and Truck Drivers, Local 70, the California Labor Federation, the California Trucking Association, the Environmental Law Foundation and the International Brotherhood of Teamsters. The Natural Resources Defense Council and Planning and Conservation League were petitioners-intervenors.

Click here to read the opinion.