Can You Top This: Now AEI Blogger Says We Got Clean Cars without Clean Car Standards

American Enterprise Institute blogger Steven Hayward is at it again. 

Last week I called him out for saluting the success of the Clean Air Act’s acid rain program without mentioning that such a program existed. 

Call it the “immaculate conception” theory of pollution control.  It just happens by itself.

This week Hayward’s posted a neat chart showing that emissions of “volatile organic chemicals” – one of the main ingredients of health-threatening ozone smog – have declined over the last 40 years even as we’ve driven more cars lots more miles each year.  Fine stuff.

But then Hayward goes haywire again by claiming that some of the key technologies that made this achievement possible – such as fuel injection – came into use by themselves.  He says:

Now, lest David Doniger get his knickers in a twist again, let’s point out here that much of this reduction would have occurred as a result of market forces in the absence of a regulatory mandate. One large chunk of VOC reductions from cars came from the move to fuel-injected engines, which vastly improve engine efficiency and combustion. What would not have occurred without a mandate are the sealed caps on auto fuel tanks that prevent evaporation, and the evaporation abatement nozzles on gas pumps.

Now some historical questions are hard, such as determining the causes of the Civil War, or why the Roman Empire declined and fell. 

But some questions are easy.  Why fuel injection came into widespread use is one of them. 

Here’s an explanation from the March 1975 issue of Popular Science, called “Fuel Injection – new systems cure old problems.”   

Look under the hood of any ’75-model Detroit V8 and you’ll find more hoses and wiring and other plumbing than you can easily identify.  All this stuff is necessary to meet the emission-control standards, the auto dealers keep telling us.

But new electronic fuel-injection systems are here, and they promise to eliminate all other emission-control devices.

The article continues:

Both the Bosch and Bendix systems shown here are based on the same concept by Bendix engineers in 1950-52.  Bendix made a big effort to sell Detroit on fuel injection from 1956 through 1961, but gave up.  A handful of Chrysler 300’s with Bendix electronic fuel injection had been the sole result. Then came the Clean Air Act of 1966 [actually standards set by the federal government in that year], and Bosch developed a new system for Volkswagen that was later adapted to and used by Mercedes-Benz, Volvo, Saab, Citroen, Peugeot, Lancia, and BMW.

A very nice paper by John DeCicco charts the rapid uptake of fuel injection in only nine years, and identifies its cause – to meet emission standards: 

The even more rapid adoption of fuel injection was driven by emissions regulations, which required precise mixture control for 3-way catalysts to operate properly. Fuel injection also offered performance and efficiency benefits, enabling engineers to sidestep the trade-offs encountered when recalibrating carbureted vehicles for lower tailpipe emissions.

I can’t figure out why Hayward thinks people will buy his "immaculate conception" theory of pollution controls. 

When polluters can put their junk in the air for free, you don't get pollution controls from the market itself.  It takes the Clean Air Act.  And that has me breathing easier.