Oliver Willis

Regulation Can Spur Innovation? Yes.

Public Citizen has an interesting list of regulation that caused product innovation. Check the whole link for the complete story:

1. The Incandescent Light Bulb
For the sake of energy efficiency, Congress passed the Energy Independence and Security Act in 2007. The measure requires light bulb manufacturers to meet a 25 to 30 percent increase in incandescent light bulb efficiency by 2012.

The law, drafted in consultation with industry, began a new era in innovation.

2. Reducing Sulfur Dioxide Emissions
Sulfur Dioxide, SO2, is a major air pollutant that causes acid rain and smog, and contributes to thousands of premature deaths annually in the United States.

During the 1970s, Congress passed the Clean Air Act to curb SO2 emissions at their largest source—coal-fired power plants. Coal power plants were then required to implement and install “scrubbing” technologies in their tall smoke stacks.

Although scrubbers had serious technical problems, the law led to major improvements. By the mid-1990s scrubbers’ efficiency had improved 25 percent, their costs were cut in half and the number of vendors offering the technology greatly increased.

Between 1980 and 2008, the country experienced a 71 percent decrease in SO2 concentrations while the amount of coal-generated electricity in the U.S. was still increasing.

3. Protecting Workers from Poisonous Vinyl Chloride
In 1974, vinyl chloride, a substance used to produce a popular type of plastic called polyvinyl chloride (PVC), was found to cause a rare and fatal cancer among manufacturing workers.

Four months later, after substantial investigation into the health risk, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) issued a rule banning any “detectable level” of vinyl chloride in workplaces.

Ten months after final rule was issued, the largest PVC manufacturer, B.F. Goodrich, announced that it had developed a containment system that prevented vinyl chloride from coming into contact with PVC workers. The company then announced that it had signed licensing agreements for its containment technology with six corporations and planned to expand to several other plants.

4. Preventing Ozone-Layer-Destroying CFC Emissions from Aerosols
First developed in the 1920s, chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) are chemical propellants that dispense anything from perfumes and spray deodorants to insecticides from aerosol cans.

In 1974, CFCs were found to break down the ozone layer, adversely affecting the earth’s vegetation and exposing people to increased risk of skin cancer. In 1977, the EPA and two other agencies banned all use of CFCs as aerosol propellants—the largest source of CFC emissions in the U.S.

In response to the federal ban, industry raced to develop a preferred alternative to CFCs. Just one day after the final implementation of the ban, the inventor of the original aerosol valve announced that he had the solved the problem. Robert H. Abplanalp said he had developed an aerosol system with a non-CFC propellant that worked better than existing systems.

5. Improving the Energy Efficiency of Home Appliances
Several laws, starting in the 1970s, have mandated improved efficiency standards for appliances.

These regulations resulted in dramatic improvements. Many appliances use less than half the energy they did in the 1970s.

Conservatives are pretty good at getting “alternative” storylines out there, while liberals tend not to be. Hopefully this is a sign of the future.