Lawmakers pared back a planned two-month extension of daylight-saving time Thursday after fielding complaints from industry representatives, education activists and Orthodox Jewish groups, agreeing to tack only four weeks onto the summer window of longer days.
The measure is part of an energy bill the House passed in April. Because the Senate passed a significantly different version of the bill, a House-Senate conference committee is working on a final version that President Bush has asked for by Aug. 1.
Under the original measure, daylight-saving time, or DST, would have started at the beginning of March and ended at the end of November. After a variety of opponents made their objections known loudly, conferees agreed Thursday to cut the extension by more than half, with DST beginning in the middle of March and ending in the first week of November, said Sean Bonyun, a spokesman for Rep. Fred Upton, R-Mich., who co-sponsored the original House measure with Rep. Edward Markey, D-Mass.
In addition, the compromise would delay the extension until next year, rather than this November.
House sponsors had said extending DST would save the energy equivalent of 100,000 barrels of oil a day by adding an extra hour of daylight to the work day. “With oil at $60 a barrel and gas at $2.50 a gallon, every bit of conservation helps,” Upton said in a statement.
But the Air Transport Association complained that postponing a return to standard time would complicate flight schedules for international routes that were already in place for November, while education organizations and the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops said schoolchildren would be endangered by having to travel to school in the dark.
Saving fuel vs. saving souls?
Orthodox Jewish organizations, meanwhile, called upon Congress to abandon the legislation because later sunrises deep into autumn would pose an irresolvable conflict between prayer and work, they said.
In a letter to congressional sponsors, Agudath Israel of America, a leading Orthodox Jewish education and lobbying group, said this week that observant Jews could be put in a bind. Some morning prayers are tied to specific times before and after sunrise, which would be as late as 8:30 or 8:45 a.m. in some Northern states if daylight-saving time were extended.
Rabbi Abba Cohen, director of Agudath Israel, said Thursday that he was “very gratified” by the agreement.
“Eliminating the extension would have been the most preferable way of solving the problems,” said Cohen, who said he shared other groups’ reservations over the safety of schoolchildren, as well. “But the compromise goes a long way in addressing the concerns that we had.”
Cohen said he would be weighing in next year while the government studies the benefits of the extension.
Agudath Israel is “quite concerned about the issue of dependence on foreign oil, and we support the objectives of Congressman Upton’s bill,” he said. But “one always has to ask at what cost to society is it coming. Of course we will make our views known.”
Bonyun acknowledged that Cohen’s objections played a part in the compromise. “Obviously, the feelings of the Orthodox Jewish community were taken into account, as well as other groups and organizations that had concerns,” he said.
Significant energy savings still seen
Since 1986, Americans have been told to set their clocks forward one hour during the first weekend in April; standard time resumes during the last weekend of October. Daylight-saving time is not observed in Hawaii, American Samoa, Guam, Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands, most of Arizona and parts of Indiana. The legislation would not affect those regions.
Bonyun said expanding DST by only four weeks would still reap a significant energy benefit. Estimates of the savings in energy consumption were based on figures compiled in the 1970s, and since then, the population has grown by a third, while advances in technology have sharply increased energy efficiency.
“We’re operating off of data that’s three decades old,” Bonyun said. “We expect that a savings could actually be greater.”