Supporters of Superfund reform are intensifying their lobbying efforts as Congress is scheduled to go on its August break today.

Insurers and other groups say the Environmental Protection Agency, which oversees the federal hazardous waste clean-up program, has heightened its rhetoric over the last week after the House voted to cut its 1996 appropriation by one-third, to $1 billion.Rep. Mike Oxley, R-Ohio, chairman of the Commerce Committee's Subcommittee on Commerce, Trade and Hazardous Waste Materials, expects to introduce a Superfund reform bill that will remove pre-1987 liability for polluters of waste sites in September, said press secretary Peggy Peterson. The 1987 cutoff is important for property/casualty insurers because they changed liability policies in 1986 to exclude pollution damages.

A similar bill sponsored by Sen. Robert Smith, R-N.H., makes the cutoff 1980, when Superfund was enacted.

EPA opposes both measures because repealing retroactive liability for polluters will take away 70 percent of the funding for cleaning existing waste sites, said an agency official speaking on condition of anonymity.

"The administration feels that if you disposed of hazardous materials that in turn contaminated soil or groundwater or surface water, you should be responsible for contributing to the cleanup," he said. "If those responsible did not pay, the cost would ultimately be borne by taxpayers. That is not

fiscally possible, nor is it particularly fair."

So EPA is letting Congress know what the funding cutbacks will mean to cleaning waste sites in their districts.

There are "120 sites in some stage of completion that will be stopped

because there is not enough money. We think members of Congress ought to know that. Part of our mission is to educate them," he said.

Members were sent "a list of sites that will be affected and why. For the most part, we were thanked for giving them a heads up on what the consequences are. Some say we're lobbying, but the package doesn't say vote one way or another. We're just trying to get the information out on what it means to cut one-third of our budget."

That's what members of the Superfund Reform '95 coalition are trying to counter.

"We are under orders to do everything in our power to get the message out and combat the battle cry that the greedy Republicans are letting the greedy corporate polluters off the hook" if Congress repeals polluters' liability, said Joel Wood, vice president, government affairs, for the Council of Insurance Agents & Brokers.

"If this is the public perception by time of the floor vote, we lost," he said.

"We have no fear in making the argument that Superfund is a broken program that needs to be fixed," said Dan Salinsky of the American Insurance Association.

Rep. Oxley has also stressed the environmental costs to small businesses.

''We should end the blame game of liability, remove the barriers to common-sense cleanup, make the right choices on remedies and get Washington out of the way of the states," he said.

Although equally affected by the Superfund liability system, "a large ship can take a 10-foot wave that would sink a small boat," he said. "Too often, the heavy seas of Superfund liability threaten to swamp small businesses that, by definition, operate on smaller margins."