- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 10, 2011

Four years ago, Congress in its infinite wisdom extended daylight saving time (DST) by a month, with the goal of saving energy. Lots of energy.

The bill’s champion, Rep. Edward J. Markey, Massachusetts Democrat, said it would save consumers a generous $4.4 billion over 15 years.

Of course, Mr. Markey was just repeating what has long been an established truism among policymakers: Setting the clocks forward in the spring saves energy because people don’t have to turn their lights on as much as at night.

Just one problem. While daylight saving time might “save” daylight, it doesn’t appear to save energy. In fact, it very well might do the opposite.

A study published by the National Bureau of Economic Research found that daylight saving time actually ended up increasing energy consumption.

That study looked at Indiana, where until 2006, only 15 of the state’s 92 counties abided by DST. That year, a state law required all Hoosiers to “spring forward,” which let researchers compare the energy consumption of millions of homes before and after the change.

What did they find? Daylight saving added about 1 percent - or $9 million - to Indiana homeowners’ electricity bills, owing mainly to increased heating and cooling bills.

Another study looked at California before and after DST was extended in 2007 and found no statistically significant effect on energy consumption, nor did a study in Australia.

There have likewise been oft-repeated claims that DST saves lives by cutting traffic accidents. After all, we all know that driving in the dark is more dangerous, so it stands to reason that pushing sunset back an hour should cut crashes.

But while some studies found no meaningful overall effect, and some slight benefit, at least a few studies found that traffic accidents climbed as much as 7 percent in the days immediately after switching to DST - because drivers are more tired from losing the hour of sleep. And these studies found that accidents didn’t go down nearly as much after the clocks fall back.

If that’s true, daylight saving time causes more highway deaths, not fewer.

Meanwhile, there’s the hidden cost of daylight saving time - the time spent changing all the clocks we own back and forth. One economist put a dollar figure on that wasted effort: $1.7 billion a year.

All of which raises the question of whether the annual ritual is worth it.

But these findings also raises a more troubling question: If we’re wrong about the benefits of daylight saving time, what other supposedly well-established facts could turn out to be wrong on closer examination?

Will we be told that ethanol doesn’t cut greenhouse-gas emissions or reduce our dependency on oil imports? (They don’t. A 2008 study in Science, for example, found, “Using good cropland to expand biofuels will probably exacerbate global warming.” And a 2010 Manhattan Institute study found that ethanol hasn’t cut oil imports.)

Or will we find that we aren’t, in fact, running out of landfill space? (We aren’t. The total area devoted to landfills is about 560,000 acres. In other words, you could fit all the nation’s landfills into one modest-sized county and have room left over.)

Or will we learn that the Chevy Volt - the much-ballyhooed electric car that symbolizes hope for Detroit, was named Motor Trend’s “Car of the Year,” and that President Obama showered with praise and tax incentives - doesn’t make any sense? (It doesn’t, at least not according to Consumer Reports, which concluded that it’s not particularly good as either an electric or a gas vehicle, and costs an arm and a leg.)

A few years ago, Mr. Markey said, “Daylight saving just brings a smile to everybody’s faces.”

If so, that might be the only thing it actually accomplishes.

John Merline was opinion editor of AOL News.

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