President Carter yesterday announced a proposed change in Ohio's clean air standards allowing continued use of high-sulfur coal at two Cleveland power plants that would save an estimated 5,375 jobs in the key industrial and electoral state.

The compromise decision, balancing prickly environmental, energy, and charged political pressures, won quick approval from Sen. Howard Metzenbaum (D-Ohio), state utilities, and powerful congressional leaders from bordering Appalachian states.

At the same time, however, the White House announcement was decried by Robert J. Rauch of the environmental Defense Fund who said his organization would challenge the decision, adding, "If this is the beginning of a trend we are in real trouble."

At issue are federal air quality emmisison standards that would have forced two Cleveland Electric Power plants to install scrubbers at an estimated $1 billion cost, and reduce consumption of high-sulfur coal mined in Ohio. Still another factor is a controversial section of the Clean Air Act which, if utilized, would have allowed the Environomental Protection Agency to force Ohio to use locally produced coal to prevent significant economic disruption in the area.

The EPA will hold public hearings on the proposal and then decide whether to procede with the change.

EPA's proposed change in air standards staves off a decision the administration conceivably could have made that would have sharply reduced deliveries of low-sulfur coal from nearby Appalachian States such as Kentucky and West Virginia, a move vigorously opposed by both states.

Although it is the nation's leading coal consuming state, Ohio's coal fields have been hard hit by unemployment, much of it due to the tighter federal air quality standards that undercut the market for the state's high-sulfur coal.

The EPA-proposed changes to clean-air standards affect Cleveland Electric Illuminating and Avon Lake, Ohio. An administration official told reporters yesterday at a briefing that the decisions to lower emission standards are based on findings that both plants fall under rural than urban emission criteria.

Metzenbaum charaterized the decision saying, "It is a victory in that jobs are concerned, but I am concerned about environmental effect . . . but to use a rural standard will surprise Cleveland's farmers."

Sen. Wendell Ford (D-Ky.) and Walter D. Huddleston (D-Ky.) also applauded the compromise decision in a joint statement.