A battery of industry executives called yesterday for major changes in the Clean Air Act, signaling the reopening of one of the fiercest legislative struggles of the last Congress.

Representatives of the Business Roundtable, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the National Association of Manufacturers, the American Petroleum Institute and large auto companies told the first hearing of the National Commission on Air Quality that the law must be drastically amended to prevent serious economic disruption.

The testimony revealed that the clean-air controversy, far from being resolved by last year's compromise amendments to the 1970 act, has merely shifted battlegrounds.

Along with the Environmental Protection Agency, which is in the midst of setting revised air pollution standards, the newly formed commission will be the focus of an intense effort by industry to relax requirements viewed as overly stringent.

The three-year commission was set up by Congress last year to recommend long-term air quality goals and specific legislative changes in time for a 1980 extension of the act.

However, Rep. David Stockman (R-Mich.), a commission member, said yesterday, "We're going to have to deal with the Clean Air Act in this Congress because so many deadlines can't be met. There are a lot of pressures to reopen the act."

Stockman warned that if EPA sets a new smo7 st1ndard that is "unreasonable" from industry's point of view, "it would guarantee legislative intervention."

He added that the act's first deadline has already been violated by most states, which were to submit plans by Jan. 1 for compliance with federal air standards

Depending on the final smog standard, more than 65 cities in 30 states will likely be forced to adopt vehicle inspection and maintenance programs. If they don't, the act imposes severe sanctions: Cutoff of highway and sewer funds and restriction of industrial development.

New York Assemblyman Alexander (Pete) Grannis warned the commission that severe political problems will arise if state legislatures try to impose pollution inspection and maintenance programs without federal subsidies and an intense public education effort.

"New York is under a court order to develop a transportation plan for auto emissions. But we can't get the plan through the General Assembly because people can't see the need for it," he said.

Nationwide, roughly 40 percent of cars are expected to fail inspection standards, forcing consumers to pay for repairs, Grannis said. Unless failure rates are phased in, the program is "doomed," he said.

Grannis, representing the National Conference of State Legislatures, and George Tyler of the New Jersey Environmental Protection Department also called on the commission to study the long-range transport of air pollutants. Northeastern states are being forced to adopt inspection and maintenance programs and other "onerous limitations," Tyler said, to deal with pollution that wafts in from the Midwest.

"You could shut down New Jersey and the air would still violate federal health standards," he said. The state is suing EPA over this issue.

Industry witnesses presented the commission with a long list of complaints. The overriding concern, said Raymond Campion of Exxon, is that "provisions in the act impose serious inhibitions on energy development and industrial expansion nationwide -- with predictable, if imprecise, consequences for economic growth and job protection."

Campion and other businessmen criticized the act's requirements for dirty-air areas, where new industries must obtain tradeoff reductions in existing pollution before they can build. When an area runs out of tradeoffs, growth could be restricted, he said.

The petroleum and other industries are also challenging the act's standards for clean-air areas, which Campion said are stricter than required to protect public health and welfare.

James H. Evans of Union Pacific Corp. said he viewed the 13-member commission as "an opportunity for a collaboration appraisal" of air policy with the Business Roundtable. The roundtable, he said, has created a special "Air Quality Project" headed by former EPA official Albert E. Fry to work with the commission.

A commission staffer called this "a shadow staff" that would "constantly look over our shoulder," but added that the group's contribution would be useful.

The commission is chaired by Sen. Gary Hart (D - Colo.) and includes Alaska Gov. J. S. Hammond, Los Angeles Mayor Tom Bradley and representatives of unions, industry and environmental groups.