CRAWFORD, Texas – One element in the new energy bill signed into law by President Bush on Monday will affect nearly every American: less daylight in the mornings and more in the evenings.
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The new national energy policy sets into motion a plan to extend daylight-saving time by four weeks. Starting in 2007, spring will jump forward by one hour on the second Sunday in March rather than on the first Sunday in April. Fall won't fall back an hour until after Halloween whereas the old daylight saving time ended on the last Sunday in October.
The ideal was pushed through Congress by Rep. Fred Upton (search), R-Mich., who said he believes it will save energy.
A U.S. government study done several decades ago suggested that the United States would save 100,000 barrels of oil a day for every day that daylight-saving time was extended. At the time, 50 million fewer people populated the country.
But while some say 100,000 barrels per day sounds like a lot of savings, it is really just a drop in a very big barrel. At roughly $60 per barrel, the savings add up to $6 million per day or about 1 percent in overall costs saved. A California study puts the savings at about half that.
In addition, not everyone is pleased with the idea. Education groups say they fear school children will be waiting for buses in the dark. They point to problems that arose when the nation experimented with year-round daylight-saving time in the 1970s.
"Instead of doing it for 15 months, they were only able to do it for 10 and in those 10 months they did realize that there was a significant increase in fatalities in school children during that time," said Amy Sechler, director of legislative affairs at the National Association of Independent Schools.
Airlines with overseas routes also are not pleased. They say the shift in time creates scheduling problems.
"It's going to put us one hour off from virtually the rest of the world — Europe, South America, even North America and certainly the Far East," said Jim May, president and CEO of the Air Transportation Association.
But Upton said he believes more positive effects will come from longer daylight-saving time to more than offset the negatives.
"Isn't it nicer to go home with the sun from work, with the sun still out a little bit instead of facing the dark way out all the way home? So yeah, I think we're better off," he said.
The new law could also create a problem for older computers that are programmed to adjust automatically to the old daylight-saving time. Manufacturers say they could reprogram chips so that the next generation of computers will adjust to the change. Computer makers, however, may be reluctant to do so for a while, just to make sure the new schedule works.
Between now and March 2007, the Department of Energy (search) will be studying whether daylight-saving time really saves energy and money. If the savings are not there, Congress could decide to turn around and leave things the way they are now.