Abstract: Establishing the State of the Art: Firms, Regulation, and the Production of Knowledge, 1970-1977

Lee Vinsel


Drawing on federal records, published reports, and oral history interviews, this paper examines how regulators produce knowledge and create information both for themselves and for others, including regulated firms, their suppliers, and consumer advocates. The 1970 Clean Air Act amendments mandated that automakers drastically reduce emissions from their cars. Yet, the law also created a safety valve: the administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) could suspend the standards for one year if the automakers could not meet them. Between 1972 and 1975, the EPA carried out technological assessments and held a series of hearings in its efforts to decide whether to suspend the standards. Since 1969, however, the auto industry had worked under a consent decree that forbade them from sharing research on emissions controls; the decree had created an information vacuum. No one knew where current technology lay. But through its efforts the EPA and its employees established the state of the art.