Business & Tech

Should Mass. leave the time zone for our health?

ELISE AMENDOLAAP

Pulling Massachusetts out of its time zone may seem far-fetched. But the concept gained some traction at the State House on Wednesday as a commission met for the first time to analyze such a shift.

The charge: to assess whether it makes sense to put Massachusetts on Eastern Daylight Time — which is essentially the same as the Atlantic Standard Time zone — all year long. Rather than spring forward every March and fall back every November, the state would expand its daylight savings time throughout the year. The net effect is that the sun would rise later in the winter but it would also set later.

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The idea appears to be a long shot right now, and any time-zone change would need the approval of the US Department of Transportation.

But state Senator Eileen Donoghue, the commission’s chair, said she hopes to complete a report for the Legislature in the spring. She said if a time-zone shift is taken seriously, she would want to meet with leaders in other New England states to develop a regional approach to the issue.

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“This is a blank canvas right now and one that has many interesting considerations to be made,” Donoghue said.

The discussion was sparked by Quincy public health advocate Tom Emswiler, who filed legislation through his local state senator to require the study. These kinds of citizen’s petitions typically don’t go anywhere, but Emswiler’s ended up tucked into a major economic development bill that Governor Charlie Baker signed last summer.

That legislation mandated the creation of the commission to study the economic, fiscal, and health impacts of implementing Eastern Daylight Time year-round. The commission consists of members from the public and private sectors. The Baker administration, the Senate, and the House were each required to appoint three panelists.

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Emswiler, one of the appointees to the commission, said he’d like to see brighter winter afternoons. But he said his primary motivation is simply ensuring the state stays on one time zone year-round, for public health reasons. He said this would avoid a spike in traffic accidents and other drowsiness-related problems caused by the loss of the hour in the spring time change.

Wednesday’s meeting was short, less than 30 minutes. Most commission members said they’re keeping an open mind. But Representative Paul Frost, a Republican from Auburn, made it clear that he’s going into this as a skeptic. He pointed to concerns about children who would have to walk to school in the dark in the winter if the proposal were enacted.

And then there is the worry that Massachusetts could end up out of sync with nearby states.

“How is that going to work if Massachusetts were to do this all by itself, with no other New England states?” Frost said. “We’re basically going to be creating the ‘Boston Time.’ … From November to March, we’re going to have a different time from everybody else around us.”

But commission member Peter Shattuck of the Acadia Center, an environmental group, said he expects there would be energy benefits. Shattuck said in an interview that overall electricity usage dropped after daylight saving time was extended nationally, roughly a decade ago.

“You turn the lights on later, you can save some juice,” Shattuck said.

Jon Chesto can be reached at jon.chesto@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @jonchesto.
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