Twice a year, over 300 million Americans in 48 states wind their clocks one hour forward in the spring and then backward in the fall, in observance of daylight-saving time (DST). But both the origins of and rationale for DST are widely misunderstood. Many Americans think that DST was invented and sustained for the benefit of farmers, to give them an extra hour of daylight to work in the fields during the harvest season. This could not be further from the truth; farmers are in fact vehemently opposed to the practice. Winding the clocks forward gives farmers one less hour to get produce to the market in the morning, causing financial losses and disruption. DST, in fact, exists in its current form largely because of the lobbying efforts of major industries like golf, retail, and energy.
In 1986, Ronald Reagan passed Public Law 99-359 to extend the period of daylight saving by a month. Although Reagan recognized the economic advantages to extending DST, he chose to emphasize positive public effects such as increased outdoor playtime for children and greater utilization of public spaces. At congressional hearings on the issue the year before, representatives from the golf industry told Congress that a one-month extension would generate $200 million per year in revenue from golf club sales and green fees. The barbecue industry, additionally, claimed that the change would generate an additional $100 million in annual sales.
More recently, other industries have also repeatedly emphasized the economic benefits of DST. In 2010, the petroleum lobby sent out a press release claiming that their lobbying efforts in 1986 to extend DST have generated an additional $1 billion in sales, as people tend to drive more frequently and over longer distances in daylight.
Today, industries are hoping to further bolster their revenues by pushing to extend DST over the entire year. Their efforts appear to be working. Last year, over half of state legislatures debated DST, and many states intend to move ahead with legislation to observe it for the entire year. Seven states have already passed bills to permanently extend DST and 22 states have similar bills pending. However, these changes will only take place if federal law is changed as well. The Uniform Time Act of 1966 does not permit states to extend DST permanently. States can unilaterally revert back to their respective standard times, but they must get congressional approval before moving to permanent DST.
Luckily for DST proponents, President Trump has expressed support for permanent DST. In March of last year, he clarified his stance on the issue, tweeting “Making Daylight Saving Time permanent is O.K. with me!” Marco Rubio, a senator from Florida, took a huge step towards codifying DST into law last year when he proposed the Sunshine Protection Act with bipartisan support. Although this bill is still being reviewed by the Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation and has yet to make it to the Senate floor, it is the closest that the US has come to federally mandated DST.
The voter pushback against a possible transition to permanent DST, a move which would be widely covered in the media, could be significant. Whatever the benefits to increased daylight may be, it is undeniable that DST was disproportionately advanced by the retail and energy industries. Because opposition to federally mandated DST transcends party lines, the GOP’s support for the policy over the objections of farming states and a diverse slate of opponents could segment their voter base, much like Trump’s trade war with China has aggravated Midwestern farmers who supported the party in 2016. Regardless of the political implications for the GOP if this bill were passed, the Sunshine Protection Act’s provision for permanent DST would represent an enormous victory for corporate lobbying and a categorical defeat for the farmers thought to support the policy in the first place.
Image via Suzy Hazelwood (Flickr)