SAN FRANCISCO -- A coalition of environmental, labor and trucking industry groups has asked a judge for an emergency stay of President Bush's decision to open U.S. highways to trucks from Mexico.
The groups filed the request Monday morning, saying the federal government did not adequately review the impact the trucks would have on air quality north of the border. Later in the day, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals gave the government until Wednesday to respond to the request.
Last week, Bush opened U.S. highways to Mexican trucks beyond the 20-mile commercial border zones where Mexican rigs currently transfer their cargo to U.S. trucks that carry the loads to points within the United States.
The coalition, which sued the government in April to stop the trucks from operating in the United States, wants to maintain the status quo until the legal dispute is resolved. A 1982 moratorium banned Mexican trucks from the United States.
A ruling on the groups' request is expected in the next couple of days. If it's not granted, trucks could be traveling on U.S. highways as soon as this month.
Dave Longo, a spokesman for the Department of Transportation, said the suit was under review and the agency wouldn't comment on it.
So far, the Department of Transportation has received about 135 applications from carriers and bus companies based in Mexico seeking to haul their cargo farther into the United States.
Bush's decision complies with a provision of the North American Free Trade Agreement, and the government found letting the trucks in would have "no significant impact" on the environment. Transportation Secretary Norman Mineta said last week when Bush took the action that Mexican trucks would be held to the same standards as U.S. operators.
But the groups say the decision disregards federal clean air requirements and will let high-pollution vehicles into the country.
Al Meyerhoff, an attorney for the groups, said more than half the trucks in the Mexican fleet date to before 1994, when there were fewer regulations on their emissions. The Environmental Protection Agency has adopted even stricter requirements to be phased in over the next couple of years for new trucks, and Meyerhoff said his clients believe that the Mexican trucks are not being held to those standards.
"This case is of particular importance in California and the Southwest because we have communities like San Diego and Los Angeles and the Bay Area and Houston and Phoenix that already have serious air pollution problems," and don't meet Clean Air Act standards, Meyerhoff said.
An estimated 63,000 Mexican trucks crossed the border last year, making about 4.3 million crossings, mostly through Texas.
The groups that filed the petition Monday include Public Citizen, the Environmental Law Foundation, the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, the California Federation of Labor AFL-CIO and the California Trucking Association.