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Supreme Court Rejects Mexico Trucks Environmental Study
Published on Monday, June 7, 2004 by Reuters
Supreme Court Rejects Mexico Trucks Environmental Study
by James Vicini
 

WASHINGTON - The Bush administration can allow tens of thousands of Mexican trucks on U.S. highways without conducting an extensive study of the environmental effects, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled on Monday.

The justices unanimously overturned a U.S. appeals court ruling that federal environmental law required the U.S. Department of Transportation to study the impact from the trucks on air quality.

President Bush said in November 2002 that Mexican trucks should be allowed on roads throughout the country, which would bring the United States in compliance with a key provision of the North American Free Trade Agreement.

The move was designed to end a 1982 moratorium under which Mexican trucks have been able to operate only in certain narrow commercial border zones, where goods must be transferred to U.S. trucks for transport across the nation.

Environmental, labor, consumer and trucking groups sued.

They said the Transportation Department had underestimated the impact older diesel Mexican trucks would have on air quality in border states, especially in cities like Houston and Los Angeles that have struggled to reduce pollution to comply with the federal clean air law.

The Transportation Department did an initial environmental review and decided an extensive study was not required.

Mexican trucks make about 4.5 million border crossings each year, according to the U.S. government. Mexico has said it has suffered billions of dollars in economic damages from the moratorium.

The U.S. government argued the appeals court ruling had prolonged a significant trade dispute with Mexico, which Bush sought to resolve under the trade agreement that took effect in 1994.

Government lawyers said a president's foreign affairs and foreign trade actions were exempt from environmental review requirements.

They said the delay in compliance with the agreement has caused Mexico to continue its parallel restrictions on U.S. trucks and to threaten new trade sanctions.

Lawyers for the various groups said the federal government should not be allowed to push states into violating national air quality standards as a result of the older, polluting trucks on the highways in American cities.

The groups estimated that 34,000 trucks from Mexico would be on U.S. highways in the first year alone. By 2010, trucks from Mexico would likely emit twice as much of certain pollutants as U.S. trucks, they said.

Justice Clarence Thomas wrote in the court's opinion that the Transportation Department did not violate the law or environmental regulations, and that it did not have to do a full environmental review.

"We therefore reject (the groups') challenge to the procedures used in promulgating these regulations," he concluded in the 19-page opinion.

Copyright © 2004 Reuters Ltd

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