(by Sean Lengell, WashingtonTimes.com) – Despite strong bipartisan opposition from Capitol Hill, unions and U.S. truckers, the Bush administration yesterday began allowing Mexican-based trucks full access to U.S. roads.
“Mexican trucks pose a serious threat to the safety of our highways and the security of our country,” said Rep. Peter A. DeFazio, Oregon Democrat and chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure subcommittee on highways and transit.
“This administration is hell-bent on opening up our borders.”
Mexican-registered trucks previously had been allowed to make deliveries and pickups in the United States only within special commercial zones along the U.S.-Mexican border that extend up to about 25 miles inside U.S. territory.
But earlier this year President Bush announced plans for a pilot program that would permit up to 100 Mexican-based trucking companies to travel anywhere in the United States.
The first Mexican carrier chosen to participate in the program – Transportes Olympic of Nuevo Leon – could begin sending trucks into the United States as soon as today.
Many House Democrats and Republicans oppose the plan, saying Mexican carriers have poor safety figures, do not keep reliable records and do not dependably test drivers for drugs and alcohol.
The House in May voted 411-3 to place a series of restrictions on Mexican trucks and their drivers. In July, the chamber approved an amendment to prohibit the use of federal funds to implement the program. The Senate has yet to take up the measure.
Critics also worry the administration will try to expand the program after its one-year test run.
But Transportation Department officials say Mexican carriers operating in the United States must adhere to the same safety standards as U.S. trucks.
“We’re a safety agency, and we wouldn’t move forward with this if we thought we were putting the U.S. public in harm’s way,” said Melissa Mazzella DeLaney, a spokeswoman with the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, which is part of the Transportation Department.
So far, 38 Mexican carriers have been pre-approved to operate about 175 trucks in the United States, Miss DeLaney said.
The program was designed to simplify a process that requires Mexican truckers to stop and wait for U.S. trucks to arrive and transfer cargo. The process wastes money, drives up the costs of goods and leaves trucks loaded with cargo idling inside U.S. borders, the Transportation Department says.
The program also allows for an equal number of U.S. trucking companies to make deliveries and pickups in Mexico.
Stagecoach Cartage and Distribution of El Paso, Texas, yesterday was given approval by the Mexican government to be the first U.S. participant in the program.
Access to all U.S. highways for Mexican trucking companies was promised by 2000 under the 1994 North American Free Trade Agreement, as was access through Mexico for U.S. carriers.
Copyright 2007 News World Communications, Inc. Reprinted with permission of the Washington Times. This reprint does not constitute or imply any endorsement or sponsorship of any product, service, company or organization. Visit the website at www.washingtontimes.com.
1. a) How will President Bush’s pilot program for Mexican trucks change the way they operate in the U.S?
b) What will the program provide for U.S. trucking companies?
2. What groups are opposing the program?
3. a) For what reasons do the groups oppose the program?
b) What additional concerns do critics have about the program?
4. a) What is the purpose of the U.S. Transportation Department (DOT)? (Find the answer at the DOT’s website at dot.gov.)
b) How has the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (a division of the DOT) responded to the concerns about the program?
5. For what reason does the DOT say the program was designed?
6. What does the 1994 North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) have to do with President Bush’s program?
7. Do you support President Bush’s program? Explain your answer.
8. The issue of Mexican trucking companies having access to all U.S. highways is a contentious one. NAFTA was even more so. Ask a parent if he/she remembers the issue, what their thoughts are, and what their thoughts are about President Bush’s new program.
For a U.S. government explanation of NAFTA, go to ustr.gov/Trade_Agreements/Regional/NAFTA/Section_Index.html.
Visit the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s website at fmcsa.dot.gov.
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