TORONTO - Pressure is growing on the province to lift "draconian'' municipal bans on clotheslines and give people the right to dry their sheets and unmentionables outside following criticism from the province's chief conservation officer.

One day after Peter Love called on the Liberals to allow clotheslines back into many suburban developments by taking advantage of their own law, Premier Dalton McGuinty was making no promises.

"We're going to be finding a way to speak to that. It's an issue,'' he said repeatedly Thursday, without elaborating.

At a time when the government says energy conservation and fighting climate change are top priorities, McGuinty's reluctance to "free the sheets'' leaves many environmentalists and critics scratching their heads.

The Liberals passed an energy conservation leadership law shortly after their election in 2003 that included a clause which allows the province to abolish local bans on clotheslines imposed by developers through sale agreements and residential associations.

But the Liberals have never taken advantage of the clause, meaning it remains against the law in some esthetically-minded communities to hang laundry outside.

It's a small thing the government can do to show it's serious about energy conservation, said Love, who recommended lifting the bans as part of his annual report released Wednesday.

"Those municipal bylaws and covenants were passed in a different age and a different time when our priorities were different,'' Love said in an interview.

"People are looking for opportunities to save electricity. People should have the right to dry their clothes outside.''

That's a familiar argument from environmentalists and municipal politicians who have long pressed the province to give people an incentive to shun their energy-hungry dryers.

Some environmentalists estimate if Ontario residents began drying their clothes outdoors for half the year, the reduction in emissions would be similar to taking 250,000 cars off the road.

"I find it puzzling because it really is quite easy to do and the people of Ontario certainly realize that this is a reasonable thing,'' said Keith Stewart, manager of the climate change program with the World Wildlife Fund.

"Any time you can get an unnecessary piece of red tape out of the way to help protect the environment, that's a good thing. This is a really easy thing to do. Why not?''

Newly appointed Energy Minister Gerry Phillips said it's not that simple. The province has to negotiate with both municipalities and condominium corporations to find a solution, Phillips said.

"I'm cautious about unilaterally imposing things on them until we've had a good opportunity for some dialogue,'' Phillips said in an interview.

"These things are symbolically important, but you don't want a good idea to be thwarted by lack of consultation.''

The vast majority of Ontario residents -- about 95 per cent -- are free to hang their laundry outside, Phillips noted, adding he's still interested in removing the barriers for the remaining 5 per cent.

But Progressive Conservative Leader John Tory said the province should put a stop to the silliness. Banning clotheslines outright is taking esthetics too far, he said.

Clothes that are dried outside smell fresher and it helps save money, he added.

"We've gone crazy with these kinds of things,'' Tory said. "Everybody likes to have subdivisions that look good but, in the end, we've also got to make sure we do everything we can to help people save energy and save money.''

NDP environment critic Peter Tabuns wondered how the Liberals could be trusted to grapple with the huge challenge of climate change when they can't untangle the clothesline from red tape.

"It's a quick, cheap and useful way of reducing emissions,'' Tabuns said. "I don't know what on earth is holding them back.''