In a move being assailed by environmentalists, the Clinton administration is signaling that it is open to relaxing a planned 2001 ban on methyl bromide - a widely used pesticide blamed for depleting the ozone layer.

The administration's position, communicated in a letter to one lawmaker, is lending momentum to what was a stalled congressional drive to allow continued access to a chemical relied upon by farmers across the nation.Sen. Larry Craig, R-Idaho, is planning to introduce a proposal that would delay the phase-out of methyl bromide until all parties to an international environmental agreement quit using it in 2015. At the same time, an influential House Democrat, Rep. Vic Fazio of California, is crafting a compromise plan that would keep methyl bromide in use until 2005.