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SnakebyteXX
04-09-2005, 04:41 AM
Just like clockwork, lawmakers revisit daylight-saving time

Edward Epstein, Chronicle Washington Bureau

Saturday, April 9, 2005


Washington -- A House committee has decided it's time to extend daylight-saving time for two months out of the year, an idea that seems sure to reignite an old, bitter debate that for more than a century has bedeviled America.

Under the proposal approved by voice vote in the House Energy and Commerce Committee on Wednesday as part of the long-stalled energy bill sought by President Bush and Congress' Republican leadership, daylight-saving time's start would move from the first Sunday in April to the first Sunday in March, and the end would move to the last Sunday in November, rather than the last Sunday in October.

The object, backers say, is to save energy, specifically by cutting oil consumption. They also say daylight-saving time produces a host of other wondrous effects -- lower crime, fewer traffic accidents and more economic activity. Extending it into November would also make Halloween safer for trick-or-treaters, they say.

Critics say the claims can't be proven. And besides, they say, they're tired of jet lag from moving their clocks back and forth.

"We must take advantage of every opportunity to conserve energy,'' said Rep. Fred Upton, R-Mich., a sponsor of the proposal. "The more daylight we have, the less electricity we use. It's that simple.''

The House expects to take up the energy bill in a few weeks, but daylight-saving time's fate in the Senate is unclear. Bush hasn't taken a position on the issue, although he badly wants Congress to finally pass an energy bill, which backers hope will include oil drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, easier approvals for new refineries and incentives for alternative fuels, among other things.

The daylight-saving idea, one that goes back to the federal imposition of daylight saving during World Wars I and II, is that if more daylight is put at people's disposal, they won't turn on lights and will get out and enjoy themselves, rather than rushing home because it's dark. Upton and Edward Markey, D-Mass. and co-sponsor of the bill, estimate the national savings at 100,000 barrels of oil a day, based on a Department of Transportation study after Congress extended daylight-saving time following the 1973 Arab oil embargo.

During World War II, the nation went on year-round daylight-saving time. From 1945 until 1966, states and localities were free to decide the issue on their own, resulting in a confusing quilt of differing times that played havoc with commerce and with railroad and airline schedules.

Congress stepped in and passed the Uniform Time Act establishing daylight-saving time from April to October. States could opt out of daylight saving, and Arizona, Hawaii and much of Indiana do.

In the mid-1970s, Congress and President Richard Nixon put the country on daylight-saving time for most of 1974 and 1975, but the experiment proved controversial and was repealed. But the Transportation Department, which administers the nation's system of time, studied the issue and found that 6 million barrels of oil were saved in the two years.

Michael Downing, a daylight-saving-time skeptic who is author of a new book, "Spring Forward: The Annual Madness of Daylight Saving Time,'' said the energy-saving claim is overblown. "It appears to save a little bit of electricity. And in April or October, it saves some home heating fuel in the Northeast.

"But daylight saving increases the use of cars,'' added Downing, a novelist and creative writing teacher at Tufts University in Massachusetts.

In fact, he added, the auto industry backed an unsuccessful 1930 California ballot measure to establish daylight saving.

But daylight-saving time has had one undeniable benefit, Downing said.

"One unwavering fact is that shifting the clock time does change spending habits,'' he said, which is why such industries as barbecue makers and golf courses have lobbied for daylight saving.

During the California electricity crisis early in this decade, the state Energy Commission and the Legislature proposed year-round daylight saving to pare electricity demand. But the federal authorities never acted on California's request.

In a 2001 paper, the commission staff said its study "bears out the conventional wisdom that daylight saving saves energy.'' In part, that's because it shifts electricity demand to off-peak hours at many times of the year.

Rep. Brad Sherman, D-Sherman Oaks (Los Angeles County), proposed that the federal government allow California to go on "double daylight-saving time,'' meaning year-round daylight-saving time coupled with jumping the clocks forward in April. Britain adopted this system during World War II, Downing explained, because it knew that German bombers came at night. So by giving workers time to get home from work, eat dinner and get to air raid shelters before dark, the British hoped to reduce casualties.

Sherman's proposal died.

Just as well, said Indiana State Rep. F. Dale Grubb. His district, along the border with Illinois -- which is in the central time zone -- is at the heart of never-ending debates over daylight saving. The dividing line between the central and eastern time zones splits Indiana, resulting in a hodgepodge of times that critics say hinders the state's economic development and results in lots of jokes.

Many of Grubb's constituents work and shop across the state line in Illinois, so when eastern Indiana legislators this year proposed repealing the state's exemption from daylight saving and putting the whole state in the eastern time zone, Grubb went to war, urged on by angry constituents.

"We would be two hours ahead of 'God's time' '' if the change went through, he said, referring to standard time, which ideally is designed to put the sun directly overhead at noon.

"My constituents are adamant -- leave it like it is,'' Grubb said.

His advice to Congress is "it's always going be a different time somewhere else. Why on earth don't we worry about things like the federal deficit or Social Security?''

Downing, the author, who admits he likes the long, light-filled evenings of daylight-saving summer, said Congress will always be attracted to expanding daylight saving for a simple reason.

"What distinguishes daylight saving from any sensible energy-saving plan is that there is no direct cost. That's why Congress relentlessly turns to it despite the lack of compelling evidence for it,'' he said.



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Timely facts
-- Until 1883, when railroads devised a system of time zones to standardize schedules, time was frequently set by localities.

-- Amtrak still stops its east-west long-distance trains for an hour when time "falls back'' to standard time in October. Otherwise, they'd be an hour ahead of schedule.

-- Benjamin Franklin is credited with coming up with the idea of daylight-saving time, as a way of saving candle wax. It was first put into widespread effect by Kaiser Wilhelm during World War I, followed quickly by the British.

-- Arizona, Hawaii and most of Indiana don't use daylight saving. Indiana is split between the Eastern and Central time zones. Georgia used to be, but it decided to move entirely into the eastern zone.

-- When time "falls back'' at 2 a.m. on the last Sunday of October, why don't bars with a 2 a.m. closing time get to stay open an extra hour? Because their closing time is actually 1:59 a.m., meaning they should already be closed when clocks are set back.

Sources: California Energy Commission; "Spring Forward: The Annual Madness

of Daylight Saving Time.''


link (http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/c/a/2005/04/09/TIME.TMP)