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Department of Transp. v. Public Citizen

ELR Citation: 34 ELR 20033
Nos. No. 03-357, (U.S., 06/07/2004)

The U.S. Supreme Court held that the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) did not violate NEPA, relevant CEQ regulations, or the CAA when it failed to evaluate the environmental impact of increased cross-border operations of Mexican motor carriers in its EA because any environmental impact would be the effect of lifting a 19-year moratorium against Mexican motor carriers from operating within the United States, not of the regulations’ implementation. The issue was whether increased cross-border operations of Mexican motor carriers and correlative release of emissions was an effect of the FMCSA's rules and, if not, then the FMCSA's failure to address environmental effects in the EA was proper. The Court also held that the group forfeited any objection to the EA on the ground that it did not adequately discuss potential alternatives to the proposed action because respondents never identified in their comments to the rules any alternatives beyond those the EA evaluated. Finally, the FMCSA's purpose is to register any motor carrier willing and able to comply with various safety and financial responsibility rules. Thus, since the FMCSA has no ability to prevent such cross-border operations, it lacks the power to act on whatever information might be contained in an EIS and could not act on whatever input the public could provide. The FMCSA did not violate the CAA by failing to make a conformity determination which considered direct and indirect emissions in a nonattainment or maintenance area. Trucks' emissions were not direct because they will not occur at the same time or place as the promulgation of the regulations nor were they considered indirect because the FMCSA cannot practicably control or maintain control over the emissions: the FMCSA has no ability to countermand the president's decision to lift the moratorium or to act categorically to prevent Mexican carriers from registering and Mexican trucks from entering the country; and once the regulations are promulgated, the FMCSA will not be able to regulate any aspect of vehicle exhaust from those trucks. Although the lower court held that the EA was deficient because it failed to give adequate consideration to the overall environmental impact of lifting the moratorium, the Court rejected an environmental group's challenge to the procedures used in promulgating these regulations and remanded the case for further proceedings. Thomas, J., delivered the opinion for a unanimous Court.