Maryland's new, easier air pollution requirments finally made it through the state bureaucracy and the Environmental Protection Agency last week, three years after the state legislature voted to relax the state's rules to conform with national standards.

State Rep. Casper Taylor (D-Cumberland), whose district includes the state's small coal mining operations, sought the changes in 1978 to "give industry the opportunity to make the air dirtier, up to a safe point," he said in an interview. Their appearance in the Federal Register as proposed changes to Maryland's air quality control plan came as "very good news" to him.

EPA Administrator Anne M. Gorsuch has been sharply critical of such long delays in EPA's approval of relatively noncontroversial changes in state air quality plans. She has vowed to streamline the process in amendments to the Clean Air Act expected to be offered in the next two weeks.

Maryland air laws currently are more stringent than national standards in terms of the amount of pollution they allow industry to emit, according to Gregory Ham, an environmental scientist in EPA's Philadelphia regional headquarters. That means that other states have a competitive edge in attracting new industry, said Taylor.

"It was very controversial. The [American] Lung Association and environmental groups opposed it," Taylor recalled of his 1978 bill. Then Gov. Blair Lee held a hearing on the possibility of vetoing the measure "but found no danger to health," Taylor related, and signed it into law.

Then it stalled in the state bureaucracy. "Some of the environmental health people didn't particularly want to do it," Taylor said. "They said it was lack of staff to draft the regs." The changes involved studying Maryland's so-called "state implementation plan," or SIP, which the Clean Air Act of 1970 requires of every state. The SIPs set the actual rules for air polluters in each state and must be at least as tough as federal standards.

The bureaucrats had to find out where Maryland's SIP differed from federal standards, and then write proposed revisions for submission to EPA. In reality, state workers collaborate with EPA officials in drafting the proposals, but the whole process has routinely been time-consuming.

EPA finally received the draft in the spring of 1980. There the changes were scrutinized to make sure no federal law was broken, and the whole thing was put into formal language a year later.

The changes to Maryland's laws will kill the requirement that new plants in rural Maryland (outside the Baltimore and Washington suburban areas) produce no visible emissions, allowing them instead to put forth a vapor that obscures 20 percent of the light behind it. The standard for ozone emissions is relaxed to reflect a recent change in the federal standard, as is the standard for nitrogen oxides that come from burning coal.