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Public Citizen Urges Government to Consider Health, Safety Implications of Opening Border to Mexican Trucks

Oct. 27, 2003

Public Citizen Urges Government to Consider Health, Safety Implications of Opening Border to Mexican Trucks


Hearings to Be Held in Laredo, Houston

AUSTIN, Texas – When the federal government analyzes the impacts of permitting Mexico-domiciled trucks to roam throughout the country, it should consider the detrimental health effects of diesel exhaust, the weaknesses in the Mexican truck safety system and the security implications of trucking more hazardous materials into this country, Public Citizen will tell regulators this week.

In testimony to be delivered Tuesday, Oct. 28, to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA), Tom “Smitty” Smith, the director of Public Citizen’s Texas office, will urge the agency to take a wide range of factors into account when preparing information for an environmental impact statement – a court-mandated document that must be completed before the U.S. border can be opened to long-haul trucks.

The Bush administration ordered the border open last year on Thanksgiving eve. A group that included Public Citizen, the Environmental Law Foundation and the International Brotherhood of Teamsters went to court to block the opening, arguing that the administration failed to take into account the environmental health impacts. In January, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the Bush administration violated federal environmental law by moving to open the border to Mexico-domiciled trucks without first reviewing the possible environmental impacts.

“We are concerned that efforts to clean up domestic diesel fleets will be undercut by an influx of more polluting trucks and less stringently regulated Mexico-domiciled carriers,” Smith said. “We also worry that differences in the safety levels of domestic trucks and Mexico-domiciled trucks will introduce new and grave risks to those traveling on U.S. highways. As courts have indicated, the government in its analysis must examine the health and safety effects of having these trucks on U.S. roads.”

Smith urged regulators to consider that:

  • Diesel exhaust is a known carcinogen and a toxic air contaminant that has been shown to be a probable cause of asthma. Many regions in California and Texas do not meet federal air quality standards for particulate matter that poses a serious health threat. The Houston and Los Angeles regions have the most polluted air in the country.
  • The Mexican fleet is still more polluting than the U.S. fleet, primarily because it is older, with only 20 percent of the trucks manufactured since 1994.
  • Mexico has no plan to adopt the low sulfur diesel fuel requirements or new emissions standards that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has adopted for the United States beginning in 2007.
  • Five thousand people die every year in crashes involving domestic carriers. Many of those crashes are fatigue-related. Yet Mexico-domiciled commercial carriers need not keep logbooks to indicate the hours that truckers have been on the road while in Mexico. That makes logbooks maintained by cross-border carriers for the sole purpose of crossing into the United States highly suspect.
  • A considerable percentage of trucks that are likely to cross into the United States will be carrying hazardous waste and materials, including explosives and other highly dangerous chemicals and gases. For safety and national security reasons, these trucks should be subject to a higher level of scrutiny.
  • There is currently no way for border inspectors to verify that a carrier’s insurance papers properly indicate coverage for that shipment and carrier or are not fraudulent or otherwise inadequate. Because it would be extremely difficult for U.S. citizens, localities or states to seek recovery for clean-up of a hazardous materials spill or accident directly from Mexico-domiciled carriers due to cross-border jurisdictional issues, this should be factored into any risk analysis. Arrangements for the verification of insurance coverage should be made.

Click here to view a fact sheet.

The FMCSA is holding hearings on Monday and Tuesday. Monday’s hearing is from 7-9 p.m. at Texas A&M University, 5201 University Blvd., Student Center Room 236, in Laredo. Tuesday’s hearing will be held from 7-9 p.m. at Reliant Area, One Reliant Park, in Houston. More information about the hearings can be obtained from FMCSA at 1-800-288-5634.