Last September the Caterpillar Tractor Co. told the Environmental Protection Agency that there were major problems with the government's permit issuing apparatus.

Yesterday, the EPA changed the rules.

"That's not bad," said Caterpillar environmental control manager Wilbur Dodge, who was in Washington to attend a rare EPA press conference announcing the changes made at industry's request.

Dodge originally called the EPA to complain that many EpA permits needed for large construction projects would not be granted until the project was well under way.

"We were apprehensive that we would get large construction permit, then along the way find that we couldn't get a permit for something else, like water disposal, or air quality, and we would have to scrap the entire project at a huge loss," Dodge said.

"I called Barbara Blum (EPA's deputy administrator) and told her we wanted a procedure to assess all permits for one construction job at the same time," he said.

"And Blum and the EPA picked up the gauntlet we threw down and ran with," he added.

Blum set up a task force to check into the problems.

"Dodge was right," Blum said. "They could sink millions into the design, construction and occupancy of large industrial manufacturing system and then arrive at a new hurdle."

Blum said the problem was that the EPA operates under six or seven different permit laws, and each region has s different division to handle each law, like air, wter, hazardous materials or toxic substances.

"Having to deal with six or seven different people ment getting each of the permits at different time," Blum said. "That was difficult for any company, but particularly rough on small companies, since many of the large ones have a person who just handles permits."

Now, Blum said, she has instituted a system to expedite matters and help firms get all of their permits at the same time.

"We are going to have one person in each reason who will be assigned to a company, and be the only person that company has to deal with," she said. "That person will make sure the company gets everything it needs at the same time."

And, Blum added, "we will have a permit tracking system that will make sure every application is looked at within 30 days," and the filee will be told if the application is complete or needs more information. "Appliccations now are sometimes lost for two or three months before the company is told anything."

Blum said the EPA will now also attempt to get together with a company early - sometimes before a filing is even made - and "discuss permit requirements."

"We're pleased," said Caterpillar's Dodge, "all in all we think the government has taken a good approach."