Shortly after April Fool’s Day turned into today, we foolishly set our clocks forward for the annual launch of Daylight Savings Time (DST). Unless you show up an hour late for church, you probably won’t think much about it. Thankfully, Congress is thinking about it for you.
Not content to make a mess of just the federal budget, which is on pace to post a record $423 billion deficit this year, Congress has imposed chaos on our clocks. The pork-filled energy bill signed by President Bush last year will extend DST by about a month starting in 2007.
Why? Congress thinks this little time trick reduces our “addiction” to foreign oil and cuts electricity use. But the so-called evidence that DST accomplishes any such thing is as suspect as a clock that strikes 13.
Spring forward/fall back proponents want you to believe DST was responsible for the United States reducing its oil use by hundreds of thousands of barrels each day during the 1970s energy crisis.
That statistic is the main reason we switch our clocks twice a year. It is a primary reason that Congress said it was extending DST by a month. And of course, it’s not true.
In her 2001 appearance at a congressional hearing, Linda Lawson, an official with the U.S. Department of Transportation explained: “Our 1975 study concluded that daylight saving time might result in electricity savings of 1 percent in March and April, equivalent to roughly 100,000 barrels of oil daily over the two months…. Due to the limited data sample, the findings were judged ‘probable’ rather than conclusive.”
Got that? It turns out the great energy-saver is really a guesstimate from an inconclusive study with a small sample size that is over 30 years old.
In her testimony, Ms. Lawson went on to urge Congress to look for new studies that “consider the impact of changes on electrical lighting use, heating energy use, air conditioning use, and transportation energy use, including the potential for increased travel demand resulting from more evening daylight and increased gasoline use.”
In other words, it isn’t 1975 any more; we’ve made one or two technological advances since then; and did anybody stop to think that people might actually take advantage of the daylight by driving their gas-burning cars to more places?
Congress ignored her advice.
Arizona doesn’t obey DST because the extra hour of afternoon sun burns more energy by increasing the use of air conditioners, which have become a bit more pervasive throughout the country since the Ford administration. If DST really worked, you can bet California, a testing ground for any and all half-witted energy regulation, would use it year-round.
In a desperate search for a fix to the state’s electricity crisis in 2001, the California Energy Commission examined a variety of time-warping scenarios, like creating double daylight savings time. But instead of implementing this super-duper saving time, the commission actually found “total electricity use would be virtually unchanged” if the state didn’t use DST at all. The report suggested “the lower electric use typically observed after the spring onset of DST (Daylight Saving Time) may be purely the result of the warmer, longer days and not because of the time change.”
This would be funny, if it were simply about shifting an hour from here to there. But the struggling airline industry thinks Congress’ tacking on an extra month to DST will cost them up to $147 million and Energy Secretary Samuel Bodman warned the change would “raise serious international harmonization problems for the transportation industry.” The National Parent Teacher Association (PTA) opposes the plan because of “the increased danger of traveling to school in dark hours.”
When retailers, who love the extra hour of daylight to lure shoppers into their stores, are the only beneficiaries of an energy policy, it isn’t really an energy policy at all. How do all those shoppers get to the stores anyway? Cars that use gas.
Members of Congress have recently been ridiculed for being on pace to meet only 97 days this year, the lightest workload since the 1940s, in what Truman called the “do-nothing Congress.” Given the nonsense they impose on us, like clock control, maybe they should have to drag themselves to work at 2 o’clock in the morning when their brainchild — extended Daylight Savings Time — hits next year.
David Nott is president of the Reason Foundation (www.reason.org), a free market think tank.