A REGULATORY process aimed at protecting the public interest is threatening unnecessarily to strangle a worthy local project: National Harbor, a family resort complex proposed for an excellent site along the Prince George's County Potomac shoreline. Four months ago, plans for the project seemed to be passing what most local and regional officials believed would be the last in a series of regulatory reviews. A study commissioned by the National Capital Planning Commission (NCPC), the central planning agency for the federal government in this region, had found that the project met federal environmental requirements and would provide an economic boost to the county and surrounding areas as well.

After decades of suggestions, blueprints and failed ideas for development of the site, it looked as if a promising project might finally proceed. But then a regional official of the Environmental Protection Agency wrote a letter criticizing aspects of the study. Now the commission won't vote until fall, and if that vote is challenged in court by harbor opponents, more delay could be in store.

Impatient county leaders, along with Gov. Glendening, have enlisted the help of Maryland members of Congress in an effort to rescind the planning commission's authority over the project. Rep. Steny Hoyer was one of those who 10 years ago sponsored the special legislation that he and others now seek to repeal. It gave the commission the review power. Mr. Hoyer notes that the oversight was added when plans of a previous developer included a tall tower that members of Congress feared might destroy the national capital skyline as well as endanger air traffic in and out of National Airport; neither danger now exists.

The project remains subject to all basic federal, state and local environmental law. It is the expansion of that law to provide the additional NCPC/federal review that should be dropped, lest this good project be delayed to death.