The Carter adminstration favors granting the auto industry a one-year extension in meeting emission standards that were supporsed to go into effect for th current 1978 model year, top Carte policy aide Stuart Elizenstat said yesterday.

While that statement grants the auto industry a measure of relief, since it means that they can plan to go into production soon with model '78 cars without fear of being in violation of the Clean Air Act, it satisfied neither key backers of the act in Congress nor the auto industry itself.

In fact the statement was a contradiction of what Elizenstat had announced as the Carter position on clean air earlier in the day at a luncheon with reporters.

At that time Elizenstal said the Carter administration favored postponing until the 1980 model years stringent standards that, by law, are to go into effect this year for the 1978 models. According to Elizenstal, the Carter position favored setting "interlm" standards for model years 1978 and 1979.

The precise meaning of that statement was unclear, but was generally read as meaning that the auto industry would have to make some changes in emission controls immediately, something the industry claimed it could not do technically, and certainly not do without causing unemployment, higher costs and fuel penalties.

To that first statement, Leon Billings, chief staff member on Sen. Edmund S. Muskie's (D-Maine) Environmental Pollution subcommittee, responded. "There'll be no joy in Motown tonight."

But Elizenstat late called reporters back to explain that he had misspoke, "what I intended to indicate was that it is clear that the 1978 standards cannot be met," he said.

"I didn't mean to indicate that they could not be met in 1979. I meant that at a minimum we are considering a one-year extension. Beyond that we have no commitments. We are very much in the option stage."

That statement made congressional backers of clean air unhappy. "I liked the first statement better," Billings groused. But it didn't really satisfy the auto industry or its backers either since it ducked the issue of what to do about emission standards in future years, something Detroit fells it must know to begin planning.

Rep. John D. Dingell (D-Minch.), the chief congressional defender of the auto industry position on emission control, said, "I commend them for as far as it goes. I hope that in their further analysis of energy use and auto efficeincy, employment, health, consumer costs, industry planning time and the need for certainty on emission standards for the years ahead.Gov. Carter and his advisers will support that schedule of emission standards proposed by Rep. James Broyhill and I. It is the best of all."

At the behest of Dingell and Broyhill (R-N.C.), the House passed a bill last year that called for two-year freeze on present standards, then milder standards until 1982 when the 1978 model year standards would finally take effect.

Dingell is expected to introduced a similar bill this year.

But the Senate bill, in effect, gave the auto industry only a one-year extension, and House-Senate conferees adopted a final proposal very close to the Senate position. The whole thing then died in the closing days of the last Congress because of a Senate filibuster against the bill.

Rep. Paul Rogers (D-Fla.), a backer of tough emission standards, and chairman of the House Commerce subcommittee that handles the bill, refused to back absolutely the one-year extension but admitted it might be necessary "before continuing our progress in meeting standards."

When Smithey, executive director of Washington affairs for the Ford Motor Co. dais the one-year extension "leaves me in quandary. We won't know what levels we have to meet for an additional period of time."

He termed it "better than nothing" but said it doesn't address the probably be less than a year away by the time legislation is passed this year.

The law as now written sets emission standards for three pollutants, hydrocarbons, carbon monoxide and mitrogen oxide. Under the law, the standards for the 1977 models now being sold are 1.5 grams per mile for hydrocarbons, 15 grams per mile for carbon monoxide. That is about a 50 per cent reduction in those pollutants from 1970 when the clean air bill was first pased. But for the 1978 model year, the law now requires a 90 per cent reduction to .41 hydrocarbons, 3.4 carbon monoxide and 44 nitrogen oxide.

The auto industry calims that techinically it cannot meet those standards that fast. and, it adds, postponing them even for a year or two will result in even for a year or two will result in higher consumer costs, fuel penalties and unemployment in the industry.

Enviromentalists point out that Volvo has already met the tougher standards, and accuse the U.S. industry of being more interested in postponing the standards than in developing the tecnology.

Smithey claims Volvo met the standards only on a four-cylinder car, and that the Swedish engineers concede they don't have the technology for a six or eight-cylinder car. He also calims the low nitrogen-oxide standard prevents development ot alternative solutions like a diesel engine or stratifield charge engine.

The clean air fight stretched through the entire last session of Congress and was one of the most heavily lobbled issues ever, according to Rogers.

The bill, in addition to dealing with auto emissions, sought to regulate stationary sources of pollution, and prevent fouling of the air beyond a certain point in areas that have relatively clean air now.

This caused the utilities, oil and steel industries to oppose any bill. The auto industry desperately wanted a bill, but one that would give them more time to meet emission standards.

The collapse of the clean air bill in the final days of the 94th Congress caused particular bitterness on the part of Muskie and Rogers, who felt two years' work had been wasted.

Muskie this year said he is opposing a "quick fix" for the auto industry. Billings said it might be a good idea to make no change in the law and merely fine the industry for violating the law.

But Rogers wants to try again for a new bill. He also wants both autos and stationary sources in the bill, feeling that control of stationary sources cannot be passed without the auto industry demand for a bill.

As Billings pointed out, the Eizenstat statement does not address the question of whether to deal with autos separately in a "quick fix" or demand stationary pollution regulation too.

In any case, the bill is apparently the touchiest and most difficult piece of environmental legislation the Carter administration will have to deal with this year. As one aide said, yesterday's confusion "didn't exactly give people the impression the Carter administration knows what it's doing."