|ONLINE VERSION||SEPTEMBER / OCTOBER 2001|
|Unsafe Border Crossing|
|In 1995, the federal government —
recognizing the U.S. inability to enforce truck and bus safety
requirements on Mexican motor carriers — wisely delayed
implementation of the land transportation provisions embodied in the
North American Free Trade Agreement allowing uninspected Mexican
trucks and buses full access to U.S. highways. Now President Bush has
indicated that he would like to see the border opened to Mexican
trucks and buses by January 1, 2002. A bipartisan coalition of House
members, transportation labor and other safety advocates are fighting
to continue the delay in opening the border until stringent safety
measures are in place.
In February, a NAFTA dispute resolution panel reviewed charges by the Mexican government that the U.S. violated NAFTA by refusing to let unsafe trucks travel freely on American highways. The panel ruled against the U.S. and said the border should be opened to Mexican traffic. Their findings could result in the imposition of trade sanctions by Mexico against the U.S. if it refuses. "But any trade sanctions that the U.S. may face as a result of this dispute resolution process cannot outweigh public safety in America," said AFL-CIO Transportation Trades Department President Sonny Hall, who cited studies by the Department of Transportation’s Inspector General and the General Accounting Office, which "provide scathing accounts of the unresolved safety issues including highly deficient enforcement and inspection capabilities at the border."
Hall noted some of what the studies found:
House Appropriations Committee members caved to pressure from multinational corporations when they voted to gut an amendment proposed by Rep. Martin Sabo (D-MN) to bar unsafe and uninspected Mexico-based trucks from traveling on U.S. highways, said Hall in a June 20 statement. The amendment would have closed a loophole in proposed regulations that would allow Mexican truck and bus companies to operate in the U.S. for 18 months before facing a government safety audit. "These vehicles must be safe on the first day they are permitted to cross our border — not 18 months later," said Hall in his statement condemning the House committee vote.
On June 26, however, by a 285-143 vote, the full House handed President Bush a big setback in his attempt to allow Mexican trucks unfettered access to U.S. highways. The vote on an amendment to the transportation spending bill maintained Clinton administration restrictions that keep the trucks within a 20-mile radius of the U.S.-Mexico border.
On July 12 the Senate Appropriations Committee took action to include strong cross-border safety provisions in legislation funding the Fiscal Year 2002 programs of the U.S. Department of Transportation. "The Senate Appropriations Committee chose the safety of American highway users over politics as usual by requiring all Mexico-domiciled commercial trucks and buses seeking authority to travel on American highways to meet the highest safety standards," said Hall who thanked Senators Patty Murray (D-WA) and Richard Shelby (R-AL) for their efforts to include the safety provisions.
On July 26 Hall commended the Senate’s 70-30 vote to end a filibuster aimed at weakening the tough cross-border truck and safety provisions in the transportation spending bill. Efforts to weaken the bill were led by Senators John McCain (R-AZ), Phil Gramm (R-TX) and Kit Bond (R-MO).
On August 2 the Senate voted to approve the Fiscal Year 2002 transportation appropriations bill containing the tough measures to ensure safe transportation at the U.S.-Mexico border. "A bipartisan Senate stood up for the safety of American highway users despite White House inspired attempts to play politics with safety and thwart the majority by holding hostage" the appropriations bill said Hall. "But this debate is not over. As the House and Senate move to a conference committee to resolve differences in their bills, they must once again resist White House efforts to water down the safety provisions in the legislation."