SKINNER PUT HOLD ON SUBSIDY REVISION

SKINNER PUT HOLD ON SUBSIDY REVISION

Transportation Secretary Samuel K. Skinner said he is responsible for the delay in getting a revised maritime subsidy program on the street, but that it will be out "sometime this year."

Mr. Skinner, in a meeting Friday with Knight-Ridder editors and reporters, said a new subsidy package "was presented to me but, as I began to explore it, I decided to put it on a side-track and do a complete assessment" that ''validates the subsidy environment."He noted that the Department of Transportation only started on a complete review of maritime policy, along with a sealift defense assessment "a month ago . . . By the end of the year we'll have both."

During the wide-ranging session, the secretary:

* Defended his recently issued national transportation policy.

* Said the department will push for additional airport capacity.

* Emphasized the role technology can play in relieving highway gridlock.

* Refrained from second-guessing the misdemeanor verdict last week on Joseph Hazelwood, master of the Exxon Valdez.

He asserted that his major emphasis this year will be to deal with the ''serious capacity problems in aviation . . . That's a priority."

Mr. Skinner said the department will be "vocal and active" in identifying areas where airports are needed and will be looking for ways to relieve overburdened major airports. But he added: "That does not mean we are going to start regulating the industry."

Challenged on an array of user charges proposed in the transportation policy, he said: "I don't think President Bush was talking about user fees when he said 'No new taxes.' "

"I suppose we could call it semantics, but user fees go into the system." He said the transportation policy is a "sound conceptual program" that does not "back away" from federal responsibilities.

Mr. Skinner also was grilled on the double-hull, double-bottom tanker controversy that House and Senate conferees are wrestling with in writing oil spill liability and compensation legislation.

Conferees apparently are moving to some type of double-hull requirement over time, but Mr. Skinner said it would be better to wait for a pending National Academy of Sciences study on the issue.

"There's never been a major double-hull retrofit program," he noted. ''It's very expensive, but it may not prevent the spill."

Mr. Skinner said that in the case of the Exxon Valdez, if it had been fitted with a double hull, the spill might have been "substantially less, but it still would have been a major maritime disaster."

He added that a double-hull requirement might add over $1 billion to the cost of oil products and could increase the number of smaller vessel lightering operations in U.S. ports by three or four times. The increased tanker movements would increase the risks of spills, he said.

As for double hulls on new tankers, Mr. Skinner said: "It's got to be done in an orderly manner . . . I'd like to see a 12- to 15-year schedule."