Massachusetts Could Leave the Eastern Time Zone, Jump an Hour Ahead

Image: A clock tower in downtown Boston.
A clock tower in downtown Boston.Alexander Vilf / Sputnik via AP

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By Daniel Arkin

Six years ago, when Tom Emswiler moved from Washington, D.C., to Massachusetts, he saw something that shook him to his core: The sun went down at 4:11 p.m.

"I knew I was moving north, but I had no idea how far I was moving east, and so you can imagine my horror when in December the sun was setting" in the mid-afternoon, Emswiler told NBC News on Wednesday.

He began dreaming of a better future for the Bay State. An hour into the future, to be exact.

Emswiler, a 37-year-old public health advocate, is now one of 11 members of a state commission studying whether Massachusetts should leave the Eastern Time Zone and join the Atlantic Time Zone. In a region where winter darkness comes early, an extra hour of sunlight could be a boon for the economy and a godsend for public health, according to supporters of the shift.

A clock tower in downtown Boston.Alexander Vilf / Sputnik via AP

The state "could make a data-driven case for moving to the Atlantic Time Zone year-round," the commission said in a draft report released in September. A second draft will be put up for a final vote on Nov. 1, and the issue could then go to lawmakers, according to a spokesman for Eileen Donoghue, a Democratic state senator who chairs the panel.

The upshot: If the state joins Puerto Rico and eastern Canadian provinces in the Atlantic Time Zone, it would effectively run on an all-year daylight-saving time. In its draft report, the commission touted potential benefits of the change, from boosted consumer spending to lower rates of certain types of crime.

But there is some fine print. The report said Massachusetts should not act alone, or else it could disrupt "commerce, trade, interstate transportation and broadcasting" across the region. A majority of other states in New England would have to jump on the time-zone train, too.

The report also said starting times for schools would have to be pushed back, partly so students do not have to commute in the dark or start class when they are "not fully awake."

But for the commission members — including Emswiler, who has been leading the charge on the issue for the last three years, beginning with a 2014 op-ed in The Boston Globe — the "positive benefits" outweigh the possible costs.

"There has to be a better way," Emswiler said.