Re-elect Dan Lipinski Congressman

Bipartisan Group of Lawmakers Say No to Border Trucking Plan

Sign On San Diego

May 3, 2011

By Robert J. Hawkins

Citing concerns over safety, security and cost, a bipartisan coalition in Congress is demanding that the federal Department of Transportation drop plans to re-launch a cross-border trucking program with Mexico.

Reps. Duncan Hunter, R-Alpine, and Daniel Lipinski, D-Ill., have collected 34 signatures on a letter to Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood urging him to terminate the cross-border trucking program.

The letter, signed by 22 Democrats and 12 Republicans, is to be delivered to LaHood and made public on Wednesday afternoon. Rep. Bob Filner, D-San Diego, was the only other member of the local delegation to sign the letter.

The department's latest set of guidelines for the trucking program was published April 13 in the Federal Register and the public comment period closes on May 14.

A draft copy of the letter obtained by the Union-Tribune raises concerns about safety on U.S. roads, the government’s funding of electronic tracking systems for Mexican trucks, the ability to properly inspect all trucks at the border and the prospect of drug cartels using the cross-border program as a shipping outlet for drugs.

“The cross-border trucking program clearly puts foreign interests above our own,” said Hunter in a prepared statement to be released Wednesday. “It’s bad for the American economy. It’s bad for American truckers and the entire commercial trucking industry.”

The opening of the border to both Mexican and U.S. commercial trucks has long been a part of the North American Free Trade Agreement. Congress terminated the most recent program in 2009, resulting in Mexico assigning high tariffs to many U.S. products in retaliation.

In March, President Barack Obama said the program would be revived and, in turn, Mexico would drop the tariffs, estimated to cost the U.S. $2.4 billion a year.

LaHood’s agency worked with the trucking industry, Congress, safety agencies and national security groups among others to devise the current proposal for a test program.

“While we understand the need to work to remove the unfair tariffs that Mexico has imposed on U.S. agriculture products as a result, to so should not come at the expense of the safety of our highways,” the letter states.

Because the earlier demonstration project with its limited number of participating trucks “failed to assure that every Mexican truck was properly inspected at the border,” the lawmakers say they are concerned about the ability to police the much larger trucking program in the works.

“Past inspection failures and gaps in security at the border show that opening our roads to Mexican truck traffic could result in the entry of unsafe vehicles and drivers that pose a threat to the safety of the public,” said Lipinski.

Trucking reciprocity with Mexico has been a thorny issue since 1982. Before then trucks from Mexico and Canada were permitted into the U.S. with proper licensing, although they did not extend the same courtesy to U.S. truckers. In the wake of a moratorium, Canada quickly resolved its differences. Mexico did not.

Currently Mexican trucks can operate in the U.S. to within 25 miles of the border. They do so at a rate of 4.5 million times a year. During the previous demonstration program, Mexico permitted 10 U.S. trucking firms to operate in that country during the program Congress ended in 2009.

Under the proposed program, Mexican trucks would have to pass through a series of stages before being permitted to travel in the U.S. The first stage is a three-month probationary period during which trucks are inspected every time they enter the U.S. Their safety record would be closely monitored.

Over a period of time reviews would determine if the trucks and drivers have met U.S. standards for safety, security and competence. All Mexican drivers would have to demonstrate an ability to speak English.

Part of this monitoring process would be an electronic tracking device on all Mexican trucks that monitors their behavior. The Department of Transportation proposes paying for these devices. The lawmakers say it is “inappropriate to use highway funds” since U.S. truck owners will have to pay for these devices from their own pockets.

“The fact that the agreement would also require taxpayers to subsidize required equipment for Mexican truckers that American truck operators would have to pay for themselves is yet another reason that it should be rejected” said Lipinski.

The growing use of commercial trucks by Mexico’s drug cartels has raised a red flag with lawmakers. “Setting up a program that allows Mexican long haul trucks to cross the border and move freely through the U.S. could increase this method of smuggling by the drug cartels and serve as a resource for their criminal activity,” the letter writers claim.

Adds Lipinski, “Inviting trucks from Mexico to freely transport goods throughout the U.S. provides drug traffickers with another potential avenue to exploit at a time when crime and violence in Mexico are on the rise.”

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