What the Regulatory Process Looked Like

I am often going on about ‘regulatory dramas’ or legislative stories from the 1970s or whatnot. In a 1984 presentation, Dieter Drabiniok (a founding member of the German Green Party and was of the first Green politicians to be member of the German parliament, 1983-1985) explained the nature of transportation policy in West Germany since 1970, when the federal government began its major campaign to reduce the environmental impact of automobiles through the reduction of lead content in gasoline.

Lead itself is a pollutant, but leaded gasoline is not compliant with catalytic converters, the proposed strategy of the German government to reduce tailpipe emissions of automobiles.

Drabiniok, seated with beard, looking at camera

The government’s announcements mirror in scale the 1970 revisions to the Clean Air Act here in America. Drabiniok, however, tells a story much unlike the political rhetoric of the time, and even of today. What follows is a description of how, from its very onset, the regulatory process is extremely tied to bargaining and political maneuvering. What came across in the press as bold, strict, and firm federal efforts to put polluters in their place appears in Drabiniok’s presentation to be a far more “political” process. The account may be found in the Archiv Grünes Gedächnis in Berlin: “Strategien der Automobilindustrie [Strategies of the Automobile Industry]” von Dieter Drabiniok, MdB; DIE GRÜNEN IM BUNDESTAG im Wien, den 11 Mai 1984 gegeben. Aus Bestand B.II.1 und Signatur 1154 (1/2). Seite 3-4. [The Greens in Parlaiment, given in Vienna on the 11th of May, 1984]. The text is my own translation, followed by the original in German.


It was only window dressing to include the 90 percent reduction of automobile emissions into the Environmental Program of 1971; it was in 1970 that the same administration could not resist the offer, I would like to describe it as an extortion attempt, of the oil industry. In November 1970, The Ministry of the Interior (BMI) invited the representatives of the oil industry to a meeting at the ministry. There, the industry representatives were informed of the intentions of the federal government to reduce the contemporary lead content of 0.45 to 0.6 grams/liter to 0.4g/l by 1972 and to 0.15g/l by 1976.

After hearing this information, the industry representatives took a one hour recess. Upon returning they offered this proposal:

If the federal government will do without its plans for lead-free gasoline until 1982, then the industry sees itself in the position to reduce lead content as desired. If not, the industry does not see itself in the position to meet the new standards.

The representatives of the BMI accepted. They had to recognize that it was not within their power to set their political agenda against the interests of the industry.

Es war 1971 nur Augenwischerei, die 90 %ige Verminderung der Abgasemissionen ins Umweltprogramm zu schreiben, denn 1970 hatte die selbe Bundesregierung einem Angebot, ich möchte es allerdings einen Erpressungsversuch nennen, der Mineralölindustrie nicht widerstehen können.

Im November 1970 bat das Bundesinnenministerium (BMI) die Vertreter der Mineralölindustrie zu einem Gespräch ins Ministerium.

Dort wurde der Industrie die Absicht der Bundesregierung mitgeteilt, den Bleigehalt von seinerzeit 0,45 bis 0,6 Gramm je Liter auf 0,4 Gramm je Liter bis 1972 und 0,15 Gramm je Liter bis 1976 zu reduzieren.

Nach dieser Information zogen sich die Industrievertreter zu einer 1-stündigen Klausur zürück (sic)  und unterbreiteten danach den Vertretern des Bundesinnenministeriums folgenden Vorschlag:

Wenn die Bundesregierung auf etwaige Pläne zur bleifreien Benzins bis 1982 verzichtet, dann sieht sich die Mineralölindustrie in der Lage, den Bleigehalt wie gewünscht zu reduzieren. Wenn nicht, sieht si sich nicht in der Lage, die neue Grenzwerte zu erfüllen.

Die Vertreter des BMI nahmen an. Sie muβten erkennen, daβ es nicht in ihrer Macht liegt, ihre politische Absicht gegen die Intressen der Industrie durchzusetzen.


My translation comes out as fairly stilted and straightforward, but the tone of Drabiniok’s speech was distinctly caustic – the industry’s proposals of what it ‘saw itself in the position to achieve’ has the tone of a power play, and one that the government recognizes it did not have the power to oppose. That environmental issues were at stake chafed Drabiniok, who was trying to account for the thirteen years of inaction on the part of the federal government on emissions regulation between the widely publicized and oft-cited 1971 program and the atmosphere of re-engagement present in the political climate of 1984.

In the face of the public declarations by politicians on environmental issues, it is very engaging to get a glimpse at the back-room dealings that account for the slow roll-out and enforcement of environmental policy. The story told by Drabiniok here is one that shows how not only is it important to have motivation to push for emissions regulation, but so too is it important for the regulators to have the knowledge and political resources to enter into negotiations able to support their agenda.  This is a lesson that the West German federal government would once more sit down to learn in the years immediately following Drabiniok’s presentation, as national legislators sought to bring German regulation to Europe-wide implementation.

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1 Response to What the Regulatory Process Looked Like

  1. Pingback: Damn You Grandpa Car: 1983 Mercedes-Benz SEC | Autofrei

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