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