Daylight Savings Time (DST) is a great example of how the government is slow to deal with change (if it ever does), and pushes wasteful and ineffective policy solutions – sometimes even on a bipartisan basis.
Although DST has been with us since the dawn of the 20th Century – and traces its roots earlier in time – the current incarnation of DST began in 2007, following implementation of the Energy Policy Act of 2005. The law was passed in a largely bipartisan (85-12) vote in the Senate with more controversy arising in the House (249-183) from House Democrats who took an ideological stance that the proposed law did not go far enough to place mandates requiring energy producers to use more expensive but politically friendly renewable energy in their overall energy production mix by 2020.
The arguments we often hear in favor of DST are that it saves energy. And of course the federal government knows best how to direct the activities of individuals from a national level. Have no fear, Department of Energy (DOE) “experts” conducted a study which estimates that the policy results in a savings of 1.3 billion kilowatt-hours.
The government produces the most optimistic case for DST resulting in actual (albeit scarce) energy savings. Multiple sources across the ideological spectrum cast doubt on the effectiveness of the government’s DST policy for saving energy.DOE sheepishly acknowledges, “this might not sound like a lot.” And at least it is right on this point. The US produces more than 4,000 billion kilowatt-hours of energy on an annual basis. Meaning the nation’s DST policy puts everyone on edge for a net savings of about 0.03% of total energy produced in a year’s time. This doesn’t even amount to finding a penny on the sidewalk; it is finding about 3 hundredths of one.
But despite the Department of Energy’s optimism produced by their “experts”, the litany of scientific studies and arguments against the effectiveness of DST changes are overwhelming.
Virtually all sources from the resulting search screen show no support for the widely held belief that DST results in energy savings. In fact, contrary to the DOE’s experts, another 2008 scientific study suggests that the government’s manipulation of our clocks may actually increase energy use when compared to doing nothing. The National Bureau of Economic Research issued a report demonstrating that “contrary to the policy’s intent — DST increases residential electricity demand. Estimates of the overall increase are approximately 1 percent.”
Rather than a savings of 0.03%, there appears to be a cost of about 1 percent of energy consumption. Not surprisingly, this follows another pattern from government “experts” who claimed that government control of health insurance would result in $2,500 in annual savings to the average family, when in fact, the opposite has taken place, and the average family has experienced a net cost increase of $7,500.
Apart from energy savings, the DST-imposed time changes have been associated literally with killing people. One study associates the loss of an hour sleep with additional risk for heart attacks. Another links DST to increased street crime. And another study attributes driving fatalities to drivers having to re-acclimate themselves to darker driving conditions.
Other studies have determined other, harder to quantify costs and impacts such as the expense of changing software, managing transit schedules, even hindered agricultural production. One of our favorite articles from the list we perused was by Tom Zeller at Forbes.com. His summary of the critics’ positions says it best:
“But critics of DST also argue that most energy-use analyses fail to account for a variety of potential costs associated with routine time changes. These would include everything from impacts on human health and crime rates to the costs of adjusting mass transit schedules, hindering agricultural work, and, well, putting a large segment of the population into a foul mood.”
If energy savings was the stated goal of the Energy Policy Act of 2005, the government failed miserably in its attempt. So why was the Energy Policy Act of 2005 necessary? It must have done something worthwhile. The text of the legislation tops 550 pages, so surely there is something in there that was beneficial for the public good. Right?
Of course not.
As we leaf through the legislation and associated analysis, we find that like many other laws the federal government produces, the Energy Policy Act of 2005 does little more than spend money we don’t have for questionable purposes. Questionable, but profitable – from the point of view of politicians and their lobbyist allies.
Public Citizen offers a succinct summary of the law’s winners, and what it cost in terms of political contributions to receive such generosity from the treasury.
Oil and Gas Subsidies: $6 Billion
Coal Subsidies: $9 Billion
Nuclear Power Subsidies: $12 Billion
Electric Power Company Subsidies: $1.7 Billion
All told, the estimated value of subsidies and special tax deals totals $28.7 billion from 2007 to 2015. Not a bad return on investment considering that energy industry lobbyists contributed approximately $115 million in campaign contributions from 2001 to 2005 with about 75 percent of that cash going to the political party in power at the time – Republicans.
Once again, the public was sold a bill of goods, citing a national urgency to curb energy consumption and be responsible stewards of the environment. Studies have demonstrated that rather than decreasing energy demand, DST actually increases energy usage. Additionally, the policy has been linked to inefficiency, higher costs of doing business, higher crime, even death. While many people continue to believe that they’re doing their civic duty to this end in the twice-per-annum ceremony of adjusting clocks, the only real accomplishment appears to be the government giving away money it does not have to energy producers that had already been adequately incentivized by the free market – considering the high prices of energy during this time.
Americans should take away two things from their semi-annual Daylight Savings Time ritual. First, both political parties, even one claiming to be for limited government, are more interested in growing their own power and collecting political tribute than they are in effective policy-making. The second, following from the first, is the fewer things the government is in charge of, the better off we all will be.
Photo Credit: “Victory-Cigar-Congress-Passes-DST” by United Cigar Stores Company (sponsor); artist unknown – Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, WWI Posters, LC-USZC4-10663