Five groups sued today in federal court to block a Bush Administration plan to allow Mexico-domiciled trucks to roam the country's highways as soon as Saturday.

The suit, filed in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit in San Francisco, maintains that the Bush administration's pilot program, which authorizes up to 100 carriers based in Mexico to perform long-haul operations within the U.S., violates several key congressional requirements.

The groups filing suit include Public Citizen; the International Brotherhood of Teamsters; Sierra Club; Environmental Law Foundation; and the Brotherhood of Teamsters, Auto and Truck Drivers, Local 70. They filed an emergency motion asking the court to delay the pilot program before it goes into effect in a matter of days.

Mexico-domiciled motor carriers currently are permitted to operate in the U.S. only in specified commercial zones along the southern borders of California, Arizona, New Mexico and Texas.

The Bush administration has for years been pushing to give Mexico-domiciled carriers access to all U.S. highways despite safety and environmental concerns expressed by public interest groups, unions representing truck drivers and lawmakers.

In the suit, the groups contend that the pilot program violates a law Congress passed in May requiring, among other things, that the administration publish information about the inspections of Mexico-domiciled carriers that will operate beyond the narrow border zone and provide for public comment, that simultaneous and comparable authority be granted to U.S. carriers to operate in Mexico, and that the pilot program involve a sufficient number of participants to yield statistically valid findings so that an informed judgment may be made regarding whether to allow Mexican trucks to operate freely within U.S. borders.

None of these conditions has been met.

"The administration has thumbed its nose at Congress by its clear failure to comply with lawmakers' requirements," said Public Citizen attorney Bonnie Robin-Vergeer. "There is no harm in delaying the program for a short time to make sure it is done right."

NAFTA Provision

The program is the administration's latest attempt to comply with a North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) provision, included in the trade agreement after being sought by the trucking industry, to open the U.S. border fully to Mexico-domiciled motor carriers by 1995.

In 2001, a NAFTA tribunal ordered the U.S. to fully open its border to Mexico-domiciled trucking companies.

In response, the Bush administration said it would implement a pilot program to allow up to 100 motor carriers from Mexico full access to U.S. highways.

However, the project violated U.S. laws governing the conduct of pilot programs, in addition to a 2001 congressional mandate that Mexico-domiciled trucking companies meet U.S. safety standards regarding hours of service, driver training and licensing, and vehicle safety before being allowed access to the nation's roadways.

Congress this year held hearings examining the plan to allow trucks from Mexico to travel beyond the border zones. Lawmakers uncovered serious safety deficiencies and deemed the pilot program a sham and in violation of existing law.

In response, Congress passed a measure designed to ensure that any pilot program does not circumvent safety standards or congressional oversight and that such a program is conducted within strict parameters designed to facilitate informed decision making.

On Aug. 6, the Department of Transportation Inspector General released a report finding that the system used to monitor Mexico-domiciled carrier drivers with license convictions is not yet adequate. Officials still don't have the data necessary to identify drivers not permitted to operate on U.S. highways.

Further, the system designed to ensure that Mexico-domiciled carriers comply with U.S. motor vehicle manufacturing safety standards is incomplete, and it is not clear whether the drug and alcohol testing program is functional, the inspector general found.