Zoning Out

A switch to Atlantic Standard Time could brighten up Maine’s winter evenings.

Maine begins each year in the heart of darkness. For three months, between early November and early February, night falls before 5 p.m. At the winter solstice, the sun sets in Portland at 4:07 p.m.

That same day, in Portland, Indiana, the sun sets at 5:11. And according to the U.S. Department of Transportation (USDOT), which oversees such things, both of these Portlands are in the same time zone — Eastern Standard Time.

A simple adjustment would put Maine in a better light. What if this year, when Maine springs forward on March 8, it stayed there? What if we just left the clocks alone from then on? Officially, that would put the state on Atlantic Standard Time year-round.

For about eight months of each year, this change would be visible only on paper. Through the spring and summer and into the fall, Maine would still be in sync with the eastern third of the country, which would be on Eastern Daylight Time (aka Daylight Saving Time). But Maine wouldn’t “fall back” come October, leaving it one hour ahead throughout the winter. (Of course, this would have implications beyond later sunsets. Prime-time Pats games, which already drag on until midnight, wouldn’t end until 1 a.m. On the other hand, Maine would beat Manhattan to the punch on New Year’s Eve, so let’s call it a wash.)

This is not a new idea. A 1973 proposal to put Maine on year-round Eastern Daylight Time failed on a technicality: the USDOT actually prohibits states from adopting Daylight Saving Time permanently. So in 2005, state representative Kevin Glynn introduced a bill to petition the USDOT to put Maine on Atlantic Standard Time — which, apparently, would be legal, even though year-round Eastern Daylight Time and year-round Atlantic Standard Time amount to the same thing. (What, you expected logic from a federal bureaucracy?) Glynn’s proposal was defeated, 73–66.

Maybe those who oppose the idea of year-round Atlantic Standard Time ought to talk to Randy Geesaman. He’s the mayor of that other Portland we mentioned, the one in Indiana. Until 2006, when Indiana adopted Daylight Saving Time, that town was on year-round Eastern Standard Time, which gave it the same circadian rhythm that Maine would enjoy with year-round Atlantic Standard Time. Geesaman thought it was fine; in fact, he preferred it to the spring forward/fall back ritual.

He also offers an outsider’s perspective on our early winter gloaming. Told that the sun sets at about 4:15 in Portland, Maine, at this time of year, the mayor of Portland, Indiana, says, “Oh, my gosh! That sounds stupid.”