Now Beacon Hill may mess with time

Commission to study adopting daylight savings time all year long

BEACON HILL REGULATES just about everything – cars, pot, schools, taxes, death – and now lawmakers are looking at making their influence known in one more of life’s essentials: time.

A legislative commission on Wednesday held the first of what will be several public hearings to consider a proposal to move the state into the same time zone as easternmost Canada, the US Virgin Islands, and parts of South America. In essence, the state would shift permanently to eastern daylight time and dispense with the spring-forward and fall-backward routine that occurs every year. Sen. Eileen Donoghue of Lowell, the chair of the commission, said the shift would put the state into a permanent summer frame of mind without the warmth.

The commission, which was formed as part of the billion-dollar economic development bill passed by the Legislature last summer, includes lawmakers, members of the Baker administration, and appointees from the private sector.

Currently, Massachusetts turns the clocks back in November, resulting in late afternoon sunsets, before springing forward in March to provide more daylight on the back end of the day. The commission is charged with determining what impact adopting eastern daylight time all year long would have on schools, public health, energy consumption, and transportation.

One of the plan’s most vocal proponents, Quincy resident Tom Emswiler, triggered interest in changing time zones by writing an op-ed in the Boston Globe, which noted that, geographically, Boston hangs out into the Atlantic ocean farther than much of the rest of the East Coast, making it darker earlier. He said the current time system in the state is negatively impacting health and safety. He estimates making the switch permanently could save 366 lives per year in the state.

“If you read the health literature, it is clear that the time shift causes health issues,” he said.

State Rep. Paul Frost, who described himself as a skeptic, said he worried about children walking to school in the dark. He also was concerned about Massachusetts making the time zone move by itself, putting the Bay State out of step with other New England states.

“We’re basically going to create a ‘Boston time,’” said the Auburn Republican. “It’s solving a problem by creating another one.”

Peter Shattuck, Massachusetts director of the Acadia Center, an environmental advocacy group, said the federal government experimented with shifting time patterns in the Energy Policy Act of 2005. The law extended daylight savings time by four weeks – three extra weeks in the spring and one week in the fall. He said a report on the experiment indicated the nation as a whole shaved electricity consumption by .5 percent and by .7 percent in New England.

“That’s a pretty big impact,” said Shattuck, noting that energy savings resulted primarily because people use more energy at night than they do in the morning. By extending daylight hours, people use less electricity, he said.

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Shattuck said he wasn’t troubled by Massachusetts acting unilaterally, suggesting other New England states might follow the Bay State’s lead. “We have to start the discussion somewhere,” he said.

Donoghue said the committee is expected to report back to the Legislature by the end of March, but she said it might take a bit longer because the committee got started late.