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SUPERFUND REFORM REDUX

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WASHINGTON-Congressional efforts to repeal Superfund retroactive liability will continue, according to two key House Republicans.

Both House Ways and Means Committee Chairman William Archer, R-Texas, and Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman Bud Shuster, R-Pa., defended the broadest possible repeal of retroactive liability in separate addresses to the Council of Insurance Agents & Brokers' legislative conference in Washington last week.

No Superfund reform legislation has yet been introduced in the House.

However, a third speaker at the conference-Sen. Don Nickles, R-Okla.-used the occasion to praise a reform bill introduced in the Senate.

S. 8, introduced by Sens. John Chafee, R-R.I., and Robert Smith, R-N.H., would not provide broad retroactive liability repeal, but it would restrict Superfund's imposition of joint and several liability under most circumstances (BI, Jan. 27).

Sen. Nickles called S. 8 "a very good bill" and added "I hope we can move it forward."

Passing a balanced budget amendment is the Senate's first order of business, he explained.

Once that is accomplished, the Senate will have a window of time to deal with Superfund and other issues before becoming enmeshed in the appropriations and budget reconciliation process, Sen. Nickles said.

Rep. Archer declined to comment on the Senate bill, saying he hadn't read it yet.

He made clear, however, that he is adamant that the taxes that finance Superfund should not be reauthorized until the program has been completely reformed. The government's authority to collect those taxes, which fall heaviest on the oil and chemical industries, has expired.

As chairman of the Ways and Means Committee, Rep. Archer has considerable control over the government's purse strings.

He told his luncheon audience at the Council conference that he has already informed the chairmen of other committees with a say in Superfund reform that he will not loosen those purse strings without good reason.

"I have told them, 'I do not intend to give you a stream of revenue unless you have truly reformed this program in an effective and equitable way,'" Rep. Archer said.

He added that he would like to see "complete" repeal of retroactive liability as part of reform but said he would approach any reform proposals with an open mind.

Rep. Shuster, a longtime advocate of retroactive liability repeal, called Superfund's imposition of retroactive liability "fundamentally un-American."

"I would like to eliminate retroactive liability," he said.

Rep. Shuster noted that he had been told a complete repeal was not financially possible. "But I will die hard on this issue," he promised.

"If we can not eliminate retroactive liability, we should be moving as far in that direction as possible," according to Rep. Shuster.

Retroactive repeal was not the only type of liability reform advocated by Rep. Shuster.

Reform legislation will have to address joint and several liability to place responsibility for clean-ups on primary offenders rather than small contributors, Rep. Shuster said.

Efforts to reform Superfund last year failed because they got caught up in presidential politics, he said.

"We're in a better position" now to achieve reforms, said Rep. Shuster.

Although calls for Superfund reform formed the dominant risk management theme at the conference, lawmakers raised two other issues of interest to risk managers during their addresses.

When asked what changes would be needed in product liability reform legislation vetoed last year by President Clinton to win the president's signature this year, Sen. Nickles replied, "I hope not much."

He said he would be willing to make small changes in the measure to avoid a veto but added, "We're not going to gut it to get the president's signature."

On another risk management-related issue, Rep. Archer called for reform of medical malpractice laws to make health insurance more widely available.

Health care will be "the most daunting" issue facing the next generation, said Rep. Archer. Addressing health care questions will have to start with "tough malpractice reform" to save money without undermining quality, he said.