WASHINGTON - A disagreement between key Senate Republicans this week threatened legislation that would clarify the extent of a lenders' responsibility for hazardous chemical cleanups.
Sen. Robert C. Smith, R-N.H., canceled a hearing Thursday on his bill to reform the Superfund environmental cleanup law - which contains lender liability provisions - over a conflict with Majority Leader Bob Dole.
Sen. Smith, who heads the Superfund subcommittee of the Environment and Public Works Committee, said his measure is now "in limbo" because Sen. Dole opposes a tax credit included in the bill to help companies fund some cleanups.
"If the tax credit is pulled, our bill as it now exists is no bill," Sen. Smith said.
Since the tax credit conflict is not directly related to the lender liability provisions in the measure, banking lobbyists can do little but sit back and hope Senate Republicans can work out their differences, said John Byrne, senior counsel for the American Bankers Association.
"We're caught up in things that we are on the periphery of," Mr. Byrne said.
"The part that's most troubling is that we are not involved in the major debate over what is holding this bill back, so there is not much we can do," he added.
Rep. Michael G. Oxley, the Ohio Republican who chairs the House Commerce subcommittee on hazardous materials, is expected to introduce a companion Superfund bill this month.
But a congressional source said House GOP leadership may challenge that bill because it would only partially ease the cleanup burden for companies responsible for pollution before Superfund was enacted in 1980.
However, lender liability provisions still have a chance of passing even if the broader Superfund legislation is stymied because they also are tucked into House and Senate regulatory relief measures.
The Senate Banking Committee approved its version last month, and the House measure may come up for a floor vote as early as next week.
"I take a good deal of comfort that this is proceeding on two tracks, and that we are working with all the committees involved," said Alfred Pollard, senior director for the Bankers Roundtable.