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Implementing technology-forcing policies: The 1970 Clean Air Act Amendments and the introduction of advanced automotive emissions controls in the United States

journal contribution
posted on 1990-01-01, 00:00 authored by David Gerard, Lester B Lave

Technology forcing is a strategy where a regulator specifies a standard that cannot be met with existing technology, or at least not at an acceptable cost. Using the 1970 U.S. Clean Air Act for controlling automobile emissions as a baseline example, we demonstrate the importance of the regulatory implementation process if regulations are to foster technological change. The 1970 legislation required steep emissions reductions for new 1975 and 1976 automobiles, which presented automakers with major technical and economic challenges. Nevertheless, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency successfully forced the adoption of two marquee control technologies—the catalytic converter in 1975 and the three-way catalyst in 1981. We focus on three factors critical to the implementation process: agency credibility to enforce standards, competitive pressures to drive industry research and development, and uncertainty about technological development.