Opponents of the controversial cross border trucking demonstration project received a big boost on Tuesday when the U.S. House of Representatives approved a bill (H.R. 6630) to kill the program, 395-18. Cross border trucking plan (H.R. 6630)

The bill, sponsored by Rep. Peter A.DeFazio (D-Ore), would stop the demonstration project that allows Mexican trucks to operate outside the 25-mi. limit at the border, and prevent the U.S. Dept. of Transportation from enacting the program without Congressional approval. Cross border trucking plan (H.R. 6630)

“The world is watching how we choose to honor our international commitments,” said Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration administrator John H. Hill in a written statement. “At a time of surging exports and growing demand by U.S. truck drivers for new opportunities, it is simply irresponsible for Congress to deny American drivers the opportunity to compete in Mexico and American shippers a more efficient and timely way of getting their goods south.” Cross border trucking plan (H.R. 6630)

The program, originally started in 2007, was set to expire on Sept. 6 of this year before the DOT extended it for two more years, citing several factors, including the unwillingness of carriers to invest in a one-year program. Cross border trucking plan (H.R. 6630)

“We intend this extension to reassure trucking companies that they will have sufficient time to realize a return on their investment, and we anticipate additional participation with this extra time,” Hill had said at the time.

The program, born out of a 2001 NAFTA decision, has been controversial since its inception. Congress passed a bill in December 2007 saying it would not provide funds to establish a program. The administration, though, interpreted that to apply to future programs. The program has many detractors, including the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association, the Teamsters and many environmental groups, including the Sierra Club.

“This administration has been hell-bent on opening up our border, but has failed to show they can adequately inspect Mexican carriers while also maintaining a robust U.S. safety inspection program,” said DeFazio.

When Congress cut off the funding, the Bush administration claimed the bill was ambiguous, according to the Teamsters, who have a legal challenge pending in the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco. With the new Congressional actions, there is no doubt, the Teamsters said in a statement.

“This bill makes it very clear that Congress wants the border closed,” Teamsters General President Jim Hoffa said. “This time, the Bush administration can’t pretend it doesn’t understand what Congress means.”

Before Tuesday’s vote, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce sent members of Congress letters urging them to vote against the bill. “The United States promised under NAFTA to open its border to Mexican trucks—with full reciprocity for U.S. carriers—and it is vitally important that the U.S. maintain its commitment,” it said.

Under NAFTA, trade with Mexico has increased from $81 billion in 1993 to $332 billion in 2006, according to the Commerce Dept.

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