WASHINGTON — The Bush administration, interested in finally clearing the way for Mexican trucks to deliver their loads in

the U.S., has asked the Supreme Court to intervene in a politically charged dispute keeping truckers from that country off U.S. roads.

The administration wants the Supreme Court to set aside a Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals’ decision issued earlier this year requiring an environmental study be prepared to weigh the impact of Mexican trucks traversing U.S. highways.

“The court of appeals misapplied the nation’s environmental laws and constrained the President’s discretion to conduct foreign affairs,” the administration wrote in its appeal to the High Court.

The idea for a study came from a legal challenge brought by Ralph Nader’s consumer watchdog group, Public Citizen, and the Teamsters, which have challenged expanding Mexican trucking privileges on the basis of safety and environmental issues.

The study is expected to cost $1.8 million and take about a year to complete. Proponents of an environmental study argue Mexican trucks emit more pollution than U.S. vehicles and that curbing pollution is in the U.S.’s interest, even if it means delaying cross-border truck traffic.

Starting in 2000, Mexican trucks were to be allowed in the U.S. under the terms of NAFTA — which took effect in 1994. However, Mexican trucks are allowed only in a 20-mile commercial border zone where they offload cargo to be picked up by a U.S. truck.

That can spell headaches for apparel importers, which still rely heavily on Mexican factories. For the year ended in July, Mexico shipped $7.28 billion worth of apparel to the U.S., making it the leader in that product category. (When one includes textiles, China has taken the lead spot on imports.)

The Bush administration already has a truck inspection program in place, but has yet to address the environmental concerns. The Clinton administration delayed implementing the truck provision under pressure from organized labor, environmentalists and consumer groups.

A three-judge federal appeals court panel decided the Transportation Department acted “arbitrarily and capriciously” by not following federal law in ordering an environmental impact study.

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