It was just one of hundreds of forms the Environmental Protection Agency puts outs, a way for the agency to determine what kinds of hazardous wastes companies are generating and where the wastes are being disposed.

Still, it became the focus of a lawsuit and a six-month battle between the Office of Management and Budget and environmentalists earlier this year, in which the environmentalists eventually claimed victory.

The irony was that while it can take a company several hours to complete the report each year, many firms say they don't really mind that much because they have to collect the information anyway. But the end result of the paperwork skirmish is that some of the firms OMB was trying to help will have to do more paperwork, at least this year.

Under the Paperwork Reduction Act of 1980, OMB is charged with reducing federal paperwork by 25 percent by the end of 1983. To accomplish that, the agency is authorized to review all the forms and surveys that agencies want to distribute.

In some cases, such as recent battles with the Internal Revenue Service and the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp., the agencies have argued that they needed certain forms to carry out their enforcement responsibilities.

But in the case of the EPA form, it became part of a larger battle over regulatory changes the administration wanted to make in hazardous waste management.

The annual report was developed by the Carter administration and the first was due last March 1 to cover the previous year. After considerable pressure from the Reagan OMB to reduce the regulatory burden on hazardous waste firms, according to EPA sources, EPA decided late last year to eliminate the report.

Agency officials said the form was unwieldy and produced more data than could be used. Furthermore, EPA could require annual reports from companies in only 16 states; the other states had their own federally approved systems. OMB suggested that the agency instead use a sample and EPA agreed.

"We decided to make a sacrificial lamb of the annual report," said one EPA source, who said the agency felt that by eliminating the report it could make "OMB look good" without any "real damage to the environment."

But unlike many proposed paperwork reductions, this one wasn't sought by the people who had to provide the information.

An official with one industry group said the feeling among his members was that the annual report would provide useful data on the hazardous waste industry. "The problem is that OMB assumes they know what industry wants and goes to bat for industry, without really knowing and without asking," he said.

Richard L. Hanneman, director of government and public affairs for the National Solid Wastes Management Association, added, "We said it doesn't relieve us of any burden because we have to keep this information anyway" to comply with other sections of the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act.

"EPA was just trying to relieve the burden on themselves. It relieves them of the need" to process and review the annual reports, he said.

Because of various delays, however, EPA did not announce its decision until Feb. 23, less than a week before the forms were due. The agency said it would delay the deadline until Aug. 1, and in the meantime, it planned to propose substituting a survey for the annual reports.

With such a short time left, EPA did not accept public comments before delaying the deadline. But to the surprise of many agency officials, the decision provoked an outcry, probably in large part because it came on the heels of another controversial agency announcement, that it was lifting a ban on disposing hazardous liquids in landfills. (The ban was later reimposed.)

The Environmental Defense Fund was angry enough about the notion of dropping the annual report that it filed suit, asking the court to force EPA to require the annual reports. It also petitioned EPA to reconsider its decision after the Justice Department ruled in June that record-keeping or reporting requirements that were in place before the paperwork act was passed were largely exempted from the OMB review unless certain procedures were observed--procedures that had not been followed in the EPA case.

EPA decided it did not want to become involved in a court battle over the annual report at that time, particularly after the Justice Department ruling. The agency also concluded that at least one annual report might be helpful in putting together a data base on the industry, so it asked OMB to approve the annual report requirement for 1981.

As the Aug. 1 deadline approached, EPA was swamped with calls from the hazardous waste industry, wanting to know what companies were supposed to do. It told them not to worry about the deadline. On Aug. 4, OMB told EPA it was rejecting the annual report request.

At the same time, OMB said it had come up with an agreement with Justice to get around some of the roadblocks of Justice's June ruling. OMB released it as a proposed rule in early September. Among other things, it required that changes in the paperwork for preexisting regs would have to go through the formal proposal-and-comment procedures of the Administrative Procedure Act.

After the Justice ruling and OMB's proposal, EDF attorney Khristine Hall said, the group thought it had a good case to challenge OMB.

But two weeks ago, OMB reversed itself and agreed to approve the annual report. "We didn't want to be locked into litigation while" the agreement with the Justice Department was still in the proposal stage, said one OMB source.

The notice, which is being drafted now and must still be signed by EPA Administrator Anne M. Gorsuch, is expected to give industry 90 days to submit 1981 annual reports.

"The move from an annual report to a survey was supposed to cut the regulatory burden, but it's done anything but that," said an EPA source.