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May 11, 2010 1:00 PM, EDT

Former DOT Chief Skinner Defends LaHood

CHICAGO — Former Transportation Secretary Samuel Skinner defended current Secretary Ray LaHood, telling tank truck executives here that recent pushes to promote rail and other modes of transportation at the expense of trucking were likely foisted upon him by the White House.

 

“The priorities are being driven out of the White House, and that’s not a reflection on Ray LaHood,” Skinner said here Tuesday at the opening session of the National Tank Truck Carriers’ annual meeting, adding that the current secretary is a “logical person and a good thinker.”

 

LaHood has been under fire from trucking industry officials for his recent statements that appear to favor marginalizing truck and put more freight on railroads or other modes of transportation like barges or ships. (Click here for previous story.)

 

President Obama “became intrigued with bikes, bicyclists and high speed rail before he became president,” said Skinner, who served transportation secretary and as White House chief of staff under President George H.W. Bush.

American Trucking Associations President Bill Graves wrote a letter to LaHood blasting him for potentially “breed[ing] irresponsible policy” with the singular focus on rail and livability. (Click here for story, this week’s issue.)

 “When the president speaks, people respond,” said Skinner, who was also previously chairman and chief executive officer of USF Corp., now part of YRC Worldwide. “They’ve bought into it and they’re drinking the Kool-aid on the subject.”