10/04/2013 05:35 EDT | Updated 01/23/2014 06:58 EST

Feds to allow less efficient light bulbs to align with U.S. policies

OTTAWA - The federal government wants to relax its energy-efficiency rules to allow Canadians to buy a new kind of light bulb.

The Natural Resources Department says it plans to ease regulations to permit sales of incandescent halogen bulbs, which would otherwise be effectively banned as of Jan. 1 next year.

The department says the proposal would better align Canada's light bulb rules with those of the United States.

A halogen incandescent bulb is less efficient than compact fluorescent lamps, or CFLs, which are highly favoured by new energy-efficiency rules that begin to kick in next year.

Traditional incandescent bulbs are generally not permitted under the new rules because the energy they consume produces far too much wasted heat compared with light.

But replacement CFLs can cost as much as $10 more per bulb than incandescents, and they contain a small amount of toxic mercury, which can create disposal problems.

Natural Resources notes that a halogen incandescent is more efficient than a traditional bulb, contains no mercury and is comparable in price with CFLs.

The new bulb also offers a different quality of light, favoured by some consumers, and has a dimming capacity not always available with CFLs.

The department also says the move would strengthen links with Canada`s largest trading partner.

Changing the regulations "would help to support the continued practice of economic integration and strong trade relations with the United States, and a seamless flow of goods within the North American market for these products," says a notice posted Friday.

The proposal must undergo a 75-day consultation period before it can be enacted.

The Conservative government announced an effective ban on incandescent light bulbs in 2007, as pressure built to act on climate change.

The ban was to have come into effect starting Jan. 1, 2012, but was pushed off for two years after consumer concerns were raised.

As of Jan. 1 next year, 75- and 100-watt incandescent bulbs will be effectively eliminated from store shelves, with 40- and 60-watt versions to follow Dec. 31.

Many Canadian retailers have already begun to switch their stocks to CFLs — and to light-emitting diode lamps, or LEDs — to get ready.

Environmentalists have generally applauded the move, noting that it will help reduce greenhouse gases as energy is used more efficiently.

But they have also pressed the federal government to enact tough rules on disposal of broken CFLs and their small amount of toxic mercury.

A study for Environment Canada last year found no national or industry-wide standards for the handling of mercury waste.

Mercury is a dangerous neurotoxin that can damage the nervous system in even minute amounts.