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OFFICIALS PUSH DEREGULATION BEFORE BUSH LEAVES

Last-minute changes could weaken some consumer and environmental protections.

WASHINGTON - The White House is working to enact a wide array of federal regulations, many of which would weaken government rules aimed at protecting consumers and the environment, before President Bush leaves office in January.

The new rules would be among the most controversial deregulatory steps of the Bush era and could be difficult for his successor to undo. Some would ease or lift existing constraints on private industry, including power plants, mines and farms.

Those and other steps would help clear obstacles to some commercial ocean-fishing activities, ease controls on emissions of pollutants that contribute to global warming, relax drinking-water standards and lift a key restriction on mountaintop coal mining.

Once such new rules take effect, they typically can be undone only through a laborious new regulatory proceeding, including lengthy periods of public comment, drafting and mandated reanalysis.

As many as 90 new regulations are in the works, and at least nine of them are considered "economically significant" because they impose costs or promote societal benefits that exceed $100-million annually. They include new rules governing employees who take family- and medical-related leaves and new standards for preventing or containing oil spills.

While it remains unclear how much the administration will be able to accomplish in the coming weeks, the last-minute rush appears to involve fewer regulations than Bush's predecessor, Bill Clinton, approved at the end of his tenure.

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