Thursday, April 07, 2005

Extending Daylight Saving Time: It's About the Money

When I was a kid and asked my mom what daylight saving time (DST) was. She said it was like a guy whose feet stuck out and got cold at night because his blanket was too short. So he cut a foot off the top of the blanket and sewed that portion onto the bottom to make the blanket longer.

Some of our lawmakers seem to actually believe this would be effective. On Wednesday, the House Energy and Commerce Committee approved an amendment to the energy bill under consideration that would extend DST by two months. (See story). Rep. Ed Markey (D-Mass) said, “The more daylight we have, the less electricity we use.”

I may be picking at nits, but changing a clock does not produce more daylight. What Rep. Markey probably meant is that we tend to use more electricity later in the day coincidental with sundown, so that shifting an hour of daylight to later in the day would result in a reduction in energy usage. He cited a Transportation Department estimate showing that the proposed extension of DST would save the equivalent of 10,000 barrels of oil daily.

10,000 barrels of oil! That’s a lot, isn’t it? Well, no, it really isn’t. The country uses about 20 Million barrels daily. 10,000 barrels is a savings of only 1/20%. In other words, it’s almost nothing. It’s a symbolic feel-good piece of legislation. These people want my children to go to school in the dark for a symbolic gesture? They want our schoolchildren groggy for the first three hours of school instead of just the first two, merely so that they can pat themselves on the back for theoretically reducing energy usage by almost nothing?

The assumption seems to be that reduced energy usage is such a desirable goal that it outweighs all other considerations, even if it’s only an infinitesimal reduction. Before passing a sweeping measure that will impact the lives of every single American and the people they interact with internationally, our lawmakers should consider all of the ramifications of this proposal.

If history is any indication (see here and here and here), the legislative effort to extend DST is being promoted by lobbyists for the sports, sporting equipment, retailing, automaker and oil industries. (Can you say, “KA-CHING!” children?) They believe that people attend more sporting events, buy more sports equipment, do more shopping, and drive more when it is lighter later. Could it be that Rep. Markey and his colleagues are more interested in this than in energy savings? Never mind the documented increase in school bus accidents during the dark mornings or the fact that the DOT estimate is based on the early 70s when far fewer people had air conditioning.

If DST is such a magnificent thing, why don’t our lawmakers simply mandate it year round as has been done temporarily at least twice in the past? Many Americans hate doing the twice-annual clock shift anyway. I suppose if lawmakers were go year round right now they would give up any future bargaining chit to garner more cash from the aforementioned deep-pocketed special interest groups a few years down the road. They don’t want to kill the goose that lays the golden eggs just yet.

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