The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) today launched a two-tiered response that deflects both Congressional and legal efforts to delay or derail the implementation of its Mexican truck program.

First, Secretary of Transportation Mary E. Peters announced that U.S. trucks will begin operating in Mexico the same time Mexican trucks begin operating in the U.S., addressing lawmakers critical of the program for unfairly allowing Mexican truck companies to operate north of the border long before American companies could do business in Mexico.

The Teamsters and the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Assn. (OOIDA), which are opposed to the free trade initiative, lobbied members of the U.S. Senate to include language in the appropriations bill that would effectively delay the program. The Senate version of the emergency war supplemental bill has language that addresses the timing of when U.S. trucks would be allowed south of the border, and was kept in the bill after the full Congress negotiated the bill.

Although the language of the amendment did not directly address the lobbying groups’ chief concern that the free trade measure will force U.S. truckers to compete with low-wage Mexican truckers, it did provide them with a path for delaying the program.

It appears the FMCSA announcement has satisfied some of the Congressional opposition. Today, Sen. Dianne Feinstein, who sponsored the amendment, expressed satisfaction with the agency’s announcement, calling it “good news.” Sen. Feinstein added, “I was disturbed to learn earlier this year that Mexican truckers would have started the program a full six months before American truckers would have gained access to Mexico. That would have simply been unfair.”

Melissa Delaney, spokesperson for FMCSA, told FleetOwner: “This is speeding up the timeline for U.S. trucks, giving them the opportunity to compete in new markets and getting the Mexican government to move quickly on the applications they received. We’ve been actively working with Congress to address the concerns they have. We’re working with the Mexican government actively and on a daily basis.”

Delaney said she’s aware of approximately 17 U.S. carriers that have expressed interest in operating in Mexico. The Mexican government decides who can do business there.

Today, FMCSA published a notice and request for public comment in the Federal Register regarding the Mexican truck program. The timing of the Federal Register entry was exactly one week after Public Citizen, Teamsters and OOIDA announced they have jointly filed a lawsuit against FMCSA requesting that the program be stopped until the agency provides a notice and opportunity for comments. The plaintiffs alleged FMCSA circumvented these regulatory obligations to rush the program forward.

Read Suit claims that Mexican truck program is unlawful.

Delaney said the timing of the Federal Register entry was “totally separate” from the lawsuit. However, Public Citizen said that this was obviously a response to the lawsuit.

“This is progress that we’re having,” Bonnie Robin-Vergeer, sr. attorney with Public Citizen’s litigation group told FleetOwner. “[The FMCSA announcement] says the border won’t be open to the new use of Mexican trucking until the notice and comment procedure is completed.”

OOIDA dismissed the Federal Register entry as “a move to quiet the voices of opposition and smooth ruffled feathers.”

“From our cursory read, we still think their request for comments will come up short of what’s required for a pilot program and what Congress should be demanding from the administration in terms of justifying what they’re trying to do,” stated Todd Spencer, executive vp of OOIDA.

Although Public Citizen is united with Teamsters and OOIDA in its opposition to the Mexican truck program, its chief concern is highway safety—not labor issues with low-wage truckers.

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