As the nation's new overlord of health, education and welfare, Joseph Califano is supposed to be the spokesman for the underprivileged. Not long ago, he was a spokesman for the oil interests.

In a Feb. 5, 1976, column we described his lobbying for the small refiners, "small" by the billion-dollar standards of Big Oil. He fought for a loophole that benefitted such oil enterprises as Charter, Pennzoil, Witco and Husky, all with sales far above $100 million.

The loophole was finally closed by Congress last year. But Califano fought to the end to keep it open.

Califano tried to carry the battle to the doorsteps of the Federal Energy Administration. But Deputy Administrator John Hill ignored Califano's requests for a meeting.

Red with anger, Califano wrote Hill, "I have spent many years in government service. I do not believe I ever treated individual citizens, or lawyers representing them, as shabbily as you have chosen to treat me and the small refiners I represent."

Hill told us that Califano wanted special treatment that no lobbyist should receive. The loophole, Hill explained, would have given Califano's clients an $8 to $10 a barrel advantage over other refiners in their areas.