WASHINGTON - Legislation that would clarify the extent of a lender's liability for the cleanup of hazardous chemicals was introduced in the Senate last week.

The measure is tucked into a broader bill, introduced by Sen. Robert C. Smith, R-N.H., that aims to reform Superfund, the federal toxic-waste cleanup law.

Sen. Smith's bill joins a flurry of similar measures introduced in this session of Congress. The Senate Banking Committee last month approved a regulatory relief bill containing provisions that would clarify lenders' responsibility for hazardous-chemical cleanups.

The House companion to the Senate regulation-relief bill, which contains similar language, is expected to be taken up on the House floor as early as this month. And Rep. Michael G. Oxley, R-Ohio, is expected to introduce a companion to Sen. Smith's proposed legislation this month.

"We are very encouraged that all of these bills are out - as long as things aren't stagnant on the Hill, bankers have got to be happy," said John Byrne, senior federal counsel for the American Bankers Association.

"Now we want to see the schedule that Congress intends to follow," he said.

With an election year looming, timing could become a crucial factor in the progress of any environmental legislation, Mr. Byrne said.

"We don't want to push an environmental bill into an election year and expose it to presidential politics," he said. "We are very interested in getting it enacted before the end of 1995."

At a news conference Friday, Sen. Smith appeared to share the banking industry's desire for quick progress on his bill.

Sen. Smith, who chairs the Senate Environment and Public Works subcommittee on Superfund, said he planned for his panel to pass the bill soon after lawmakers return from recess next week. He added that Senate Majority Leader Robert Dole, R-Kan., told him the bill was "a priority to bring to the floor."

All of the lender-liability measures introduced this year aim to clarify when banks will be deemed responsible for hazardous-chemical contamination on properties they hold as security. The bills limit only the liability of lenders for contamination they did not cause or contribute to.

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