Congress Restricts, but Does Not Stop Border Pilot Program
The Iraq War Supplemental appropriations bill passed by Congress on May 24, and signed by the President shortly thereafter, contained language that places added requirements on the cross-border trucking pilot first announced by the U.S. DOT in February of this year.
While these restrictions may slow down the pilot program from its starting date of July 15, they do not stop the pilot. A statement from the U.S. DOT upon passage of the legislation read as follows: “The Administration remains committed to implementing the cross-border trucking demonstration program while working with Congress to make good on a 14-year promise that will greatly benefit the American economy.”
Key elements of the legislation provide that:
- With regard to the pilot, DOT must follow all applicable rules and regulations that apply to all DOT pilot projects. This would include such items as making public the methods used in measuring the effectiveness of the project.
- Mexican trucks must comply with all applicable U.S. safety regulations which are essentially the requirements in Section 350 of the 2002 Transportation Appropriations bill. (This is not a new requirement.)
- There must be more oversight of all of these requirements by the DOT Inspector General as well as more public disclosure of the details of the pilot with an opportunity for public comments through the Federal Register process.
- U.S. motor carriers must be given reciprocal access to Mexico. (The DOT agreed to this on May 1, although negotiations are not yet final.)
It should be noted that this legislation did not contain significant requirements contained in earlier legislation passed by the House that would have limited the total number of vehicles participating in the pilot to 1000 and extended the pilot for up to three years.
The fact that this legislative language does not stop the pilot does not mean that Congress will not exhaust all regulatory and administrative avenues to further slow down the pilot or put it on hold. For example, Congressman Oberstar, Chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, and Congressman DeFazio, Chairman of the Highways and Transit Subcommittee, have recently written a letter to the DOT asking that the pilot be delayed pending the outcome of a lawsuit filed by Public Citizen in the United States District court for the District of Columbia charging that FMCSA has failed to comply with a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request dating back to October 2006. The request was for information about activities surrounding any program to evaluate Mexico-domiciled motor carriers that would be permitted to operate beyond the Mexico-United States border zone. FMCSA has filed a motion to “stay” any decision for two years and Public Citizen has filed a counter motion. The Court has not yet ruled on this matter.
New Legislative Approach Under Consideration to Help States Realize UCR Revenues in 2007
CVSA, along with NARUC (National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners) and the support of the trucking industry have developed a new legislative package that would codify the UCR fee structure (as a part of SAFETEA-LU) for the year 2007 and 2008. This would further protect against any delay in the regulatory approval process. FMCSA has issued a notice of proposed rulemaking seeking comments on a new UCR fee structure approved by the UCR Board and hopes this process which includes a final review by the Office of Management and Budget can be completed by July. This is not a certainty, however, and should there be any further delay, it would be very unlikely that the states would receive any UCR revenues for 2007. The new legislative proposal protects against this happening and is believed to have a better chance of succeeding than efforts to bring back SSRS on a temporary basis.
Key Congressional Committees are in the process of reviewing the language. How quickly Congress will act will be largely determined by what legislation the new proposal is attached to and the schedule within which that legislation will pass. As of now, there may be three legislative options: the SAFETEA-LU Corrections bill, the Security bill (implementing remaining recommendations of the 9/11 Commission) and the 2008 DOT Appropriations bill.
The new legislative package also provides funding to FMCSA for the specific purposes of assisting the UCR Board to function administratively and also helping the UCR Board finalize the infrastructure necessary for the carrier registration and fee depository elements of the UCR plan.
We will provide more details on this effort as developments unfold.
Appropriations Process for 2008 Fiscal Year Now Getting Underway
The appropriations process for the 2008 Fiscal Year is just now getting underway, at least in the House. The Appropriations Subcommittee on Transportation/Treasury and HUD has scheduled a meeting to report out their bill for 2008 spending levels for next Monday, June 11.
The subcommittee schedule has slipped a bit this year largely due to the delay by Congress in approving a 2008 overall budget resolution which was caused by the time spent on the Iraq War spending supplemental appropriations bill. This may make it harder for the appropriations process to be completed in time for the new fiscal year beginning on October 1 of this year.
House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Calls FMCSA Oversight Hearing
This Committee has scheduled an FMCSA oversight hearing for June 21. Specific issues and panel witnesses have not yet been determined.