There's one small problem with the Environmental Protection Agency's plans to trim its budget by turning some of its programs over to the states.

The states say they can't afford them either.

And, according to a recent survey by the National Governors Association and state environmental officials' groups, many would consider dropping programs--particularly ones designed to control air pollution--rather than accept responsibility for them.

The result, state officials say, could be damaging to many of the major gains of the 1970s in controlling air, water and hazardous waste.

The idea of turning over certain pollution control programs to the states is not new. In fact, under most of the major environmental laws of the 1970s, the federal government was supposed to set the policies, help with enforcement, and then give money to states to help them establish and eventually manage their own programs.

What worries state environmental officials is that EPA, at the same time it is trying to speed up the transfer of responsibility to states, wants to cut by 20 percent the $227.8 million it gives them for environmental programs. The federal money represents about 50 percent of state expenditures on these activities, according to the NGA survey.

State environmental officials note that state budgets are already burdened by other cuts in federal aid, swollen unemployment payments and lagging revenues because of the recession.

In fact, when the Pennsylvania legislature recently wrestled with cuts in spending, one of the largest--$526,000--came out of the budget for its Department of Environmental Resources. The agency had already shut 20 of its 46 environmental-enforcement offices, and officials said they have no idea what the new state cuts, let alone the proposed federal reductions, would do.

Environmental officials in Massachusetts expect the state budget for fiscal 1983 to provide a 15 percent increase in their funds, which they intend to use to develop their fledgling controls over hazardous waste, toxic waste and groundwater protection. Still, they anticipate problems.

Anthony Cortese, commissioner of the state's Department of Environmental Quality Engineering, said, "We can't cut back on those programs . We're just starting out with them." Cortese said the problem is a major one for the state. In the last three years, 97 hazardous waste sites have been discovered and about 50 remain to be cleaned up. Thirty-one water supplies were found contaminated.

Cortese said a 20 percent cut would hurt air and water programs, particularly issuing permits, monitoring, inspections and enforcement.

The NGA survey found officials in 11 of the 49 states surveyed optimistic that they would be able to make up at least part of the federal cuts in the hazardous waste program; six states, the air program cuts; three states, the water program cuts, and six states, the safe drinking water cuts.

Massachusetts and other states are considering charging users for processing air, water and hazardous waste permits. But some states lack the authority to charge for such services, and in about half of the 19 states that now charge for air quality permits, the money must go into general revenues.

On the other hand, at least 11 states indicated they would be forced to drop their programs to prevent the deterioration of areas with air cleaner than the national average. The programs would either have to be picked up by the federal government or eliminated.

Many states say the federal cuts would also force them to lay off employes.

The cuts would also force the closing of 12 air pollution control agencies at the local level, including one in Alexandria, according to William Becker, executive secretary of the State and Territorial Air Pollution Program Administrators. Becker said the activities would be picked up by state authorities, further burdening state resources.

Twenty-seven states predicted that under the cuts it would take industry an average of 24 percent longer to get air permits. They also predicted that it will take longer to process water and hazardous waste permits, although they stressed that estimates are tentative.

The extent to which the states depend on federal assistance varies greatly, according to the survey. California is the least dependent, particularly in the air programs, where federal grants account for only 10 percent of the budget.

In contrast, federal funds account for about three-fourths of the air program budgets in Kansas, Ohio, Nebraska, Utah, New Hampshire and Vermont.

The federal government provides all the funds for hazardous waste disposal programs in Connecticut and Vermont.

Virginia depends on the federal government for 73 percent of its hazardous waste budget, 44 percent of its air budget, 46 percent of its drinking water budget and 21 percent of its clean water budget.

Maryland turns to the federal government for 87 percent of its drinking water budget, 56 percent of its water quality budget and 45 percent of its air quality funds. Maryland charges for some of its permits; Virginia doesn't have that authority.

Brendan Whittaker, Vermont's secretary of environmental conservation, said, "We don't like it. I suppose we can probably live with it. But what really worries me" is the federal government's apparent shift away from an aggressive environmental stance. "We need a strong federal presence" to set the nation's environmental direction.

He believes a forceful federal role discourages regional inequities and is necessary to solve regional problems like acid rain. "I'm afraid we may be returning to the old days when fugitive industries begin shopping for an easy state to do business in."