Lawsuit targets cross-border pilot program

Published April, 02 2007

Public Citizen sued the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration on Tuesday, March 13, on behalf of a highway safety organization to compel the agency to release information about a program to allow Mexico-domiciled trucks on all U.S. highways.

The nonprofit group Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety says it filed a Freedom of Information Act request with FMCSA in October 2006 for information about activities surrounding any program to evaluate Mexico-domiciled motor carriers that would be permitted to operate beyond the Mexico-U.S. border zone. No details about the methodology for evaluating the project or its criteria have been revealed, yet public safety is at stake, Public Citizen said.

The group is particularly concerned with how such a program would comply with congressional restrictions and safeguards established in the 2002 U.S. Department of Transportation and Related Agencies Appropriations Act and the statute that governs pilot projects.

In February, the Bush administration announced a 12-month pilot project to allow Mexico-domiciled trucks to operate beyond the border zone. Although agencies are required to respond to FOIA requests within 20 working days, FMCSA has not provided the requested documents about the program for months, according to the lawsuit, which seeks to require the agency to produce the materials requested.

“FMCSA has been stonewalling us by not supplying the information on this program,” says Jackie Gillan, vice president of Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety. “We’ve been forced to sue because the agency has been trying to keep this material out of the public domain.”

Highway safety groups maintain that the administration’s proposed project fails to comply with congressionally mandated safety requirements — which must precede implementation of a 2001 NAFTA order requiring the border to be open to Mexico-domiciled trucks traveling throughout the United States — and fails to comply with rules governing the conduct of pilot projects.

“In the seven years of its existence, FMCSA has proven it does not have the manpower or political will to adequately monitor and regulate the U.S. trucking industry to protect public safety,” says Public Citizen President Joan Claybrook. “Under this so-called pilot project, whose details are still secret, the agency will be responsible for protecting the public from potentially dangerous Mexico-domiciled trucks. It just isn’t up to the job. We need to know what it is doing.”

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