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Mexican trucks coming

first_imgWASHINGTON – U.S. and Mexican leaders announced a test Friday to allow Mexican trucks full access to the state and the rest of the nation, a move that alarms air quality regulators who believe it will foul Southern California’s air and crumble its roads. The one-year program allows an unlimited number of trucks from 100 Mexican companies to carry cargo beyond the current 25-mile border zone. Estimates vary widely on how much pollution would be generated by a sharp increase in the number of polluting diesel engines on the freeways. But one study predicted that Mexican trucks could add 50 tons per day of smog-forming emissions – more than the pollution generated by the region’s 350 biggest industrial sources combined. “This could have a major impact in terms of traffic, air quality and the border. We’re going to have to take a close look at it,” said Scott Gerber, spokesman for California Sen. Dianne Feinstein. Feinstein is on the Senate Appropriations Committee panel that plans to launch an inquiry into the program next month. Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., who chairs the committee, questioned the Bush administration’s claim that it has fulfilled a raft of safety requirements Congress mandated several years ago. “International trade is a critical engine of our nation’s economy, but safety must not be the victim when it comes to expanding trade with our partners,” she said. As part of the agreement, U.S. inspectors will be allowed to examine the trucks as well as check licenses, insurance and driving records of the Mexican drivers before they cross into the United States. Trucks are expected to enter the U.S. within a matter of weeks. “This program will make trade with Mexico easier and keep our roads safe at the same time,” Transportation Secretary Mary Peters said during an announcement in El Paso, Texas, on the border with Ciudad Juarez, Mexico. Under the North American Free Trade Agreement, Mexico and the U.S. were supposed to have allowed full access for each other’s trucks by 2000. Concerns over driver and equipment safety as well as air pollution had limited them to the border zone. But after opponents in 2004 lost a Supreme Court battle attempting to block the border opening, the administration has moved steadily forward. The pilot program, if successful, could pave the way for full access of all Mexican trucks to U.S. roads. Spewing smog For California, the air-quality implications are serious, said Sam Atwood, spokesman for the South Coast Air Quality District. Because Mexico does not have low-sulfur diesel fuel, he said trucks coming from south of the border will produce higher emissions. That means California’s attempt to meet particulate health standards by 2015 – for which the state is turning over public transportation fleets as well as other trucks – could stall. At the same time, California also is bound by a law originally written by former Woodland Hills Assemblywoman Fran Pavley that requires Mexican trucks to meet U.S. pollution limits if they want to travel through the state. It remains unclear, state environmental officials said, what that law will mean for the new pilot program. Union leaders and government watchdogs maintained that the government has not done an adequate job ensuring that Mexican drivers meet safety standards. “They are playing a game of Russian roulette on America’s highways,” Teamsters Union President Jimmy Hoffa Jr. said. Rep. James Oberstar, who chairs the House Transportation Committee, said he thinks the administration has made progress since 2001 in complying with safety rules. But he said he’s still not convinced the U.S. is prepared to hold Mexican truckers to federal safety standards, noting that Mexican drivers are not restricted in the number of hours they can work. “It is impossible to know how many hours or days a driver has been behind the wheel of a truck in Mexico, without rest, prior to crossing the border and entering our highways,” he said. “Anecdotal evidence from news reports suggests that working hours for truck drivers in Mexico go far beyond anyone’s estimate of a safe, reasonable limit.” Rep. Gary Miller, R-Brea, who sits on the transportation panel, said he needs time to review the program. “While I am a strong supporter of free trade, there are outstanding concerns regarding safety and environmental standards for Mexican trucks that must be addressed,” he said. Meanwhile, Boyce noted that as part of NAFTA, the agreement to open U.S. roads to Mexican trucks isn’t a decision lawmakers can easily avoid. “Unless Congress wants to abrogate the treaty, they have to open the border,” he said. [email protected] (202) 662-8731160Want local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set!last_img read more