WASHINGTON (AP) _ Rules setting goals for protecting the environment should be made more flexible, but businesses still should have to comply with existing protective standards, a presidential panel of environmentalists and businessmen recommends.

The advisory panel ended a three-year review of the broad framework of federal environmental policies by recommending against any major overhaul that might weaken standards.

The position that appears to run counter to the views of many congressional Republicans.

Especially in the House, GOP lawmakers have waged an intense campaign in the past year to ease environmental laws, especially regulations they say impose immense costs on industry. Their efforts include changing laws to protect lakes and streams from industrial pollution, to clean up toxic waste, to protect endangered species and to require cleaner air.

The presidential panel recommends that instead of implementing sweeping changes, the government be more flexible in allowing industry to meet general environmental protection requirements. Flexibility would save businesses money while maintaining current environmental goals, the panel suggested.

The views of the President's Council on Sustainable Development are particularly significant because its membership comprises leaders from industry and the environmental movement as well as senior Clinton administration officials.

The panel also recommended an examination of government subsidies and the tax system for ways to provide greater incentive for protecting the environment. One suggestion was to reduce taxes on income in favor of imposing levies on pollution and consumption.

Copies of the document were leaked to reporters Monday after The New York Times reported on the conclusions. It will be released officially in the coming weeks.

President Clinton is expected to use the report's views of the nation's broad environmental programs for sustainable development in his re-election campaign to help articulate his environmental policies.

Clinton has denounced repeatedly the efforts in Congress to overhaul environmental laws and to cut the budget of environmental protection programs. He contends the Republicans are trying to roll back 25 years of protection.

At the same time, administration officials have conceded many environmental regulations have been too rigid. Environmental Protection Administration head Carol Browner has proposed more ``common sense'' solutions to pollution control.

Many congressional Republicans maintain that a more sweeping overhaul is needed to ease the intense burdens on businesses and property owners from environmental regulations. They contend the environment can be protected with less restrictive laws.