A former director with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency said the office asked for steep fuel efficiency increases for SUVs as a negotiation technique, knowing that the requested numbers were unrealistic.

In 2011, the EPA, National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and the major carmakers met to create new fuel economy and emissions standards set to take effect in in 2017.

Margo Oge was the director of EPA’s office of transportation and air quality during these talks. She wrote about the fuel efficiency negotiations in her new book, “Driving the Future: Combating Climate Change with Cleaner, Smarter Cars.”

As part of the bargaining, Oge’s office asked automakers to increase the fuel efficiency of light trucks and SUVs by 5 percent every year, starting in 2017.

When looking at a model like the Chevrolet Silverado pickup, even the EPA’s technology experts didn’t think a 5 percent year over year increase was attainable. These steep increases were submitted as a negotiation tactic, said Oge, but were never meant to become part of the final rule.

“Our proposal is a straw man. Not only are we sure the car companies won’t accept it, but we never had any intention of pushing for 5 percent for light trucks outright,” Oge said of the negotiations.

At the end of the talks, 13 major automakers agreed to improve the fuel efficiency of cars by 5 percent every year between 2017 and 2021. For light trucks, efficiency was to be boosted by 3.5 percent each year.

Under these stipulations, the average fleetwide fuel economy will be 54.5 mpg by 2025. If the 5 percent increase had extended to light trucks, the average would have been 56.2 mpg.

A week after the EPA issued the final numbers, Oge announced her retirement from the agency.

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For those involved with the upcoming “midterm review” of the fuel efficiency standards, Oge had a few words of advice in her book. After 2025, Oge said the EPA should continue to mandate a 5 percent increase in fuel economy every year.

She also said that the upcoming review should extend beyond the 2021 to 2025 timeframe under consideration, to begin drafting standards for 2026 to 2035. And by 2050, zero emission vehicles should have replaced the majority of internal combustion engines.

Finally, the EPA should expand regulations on emissions beyond passenger vehicles.

“After dealing with cars and trucks, EPA should next move to aircraft,” then trains and boats, said Oge.

So far, officials with the EPA and NHTSA have remained tight-lipped about Oge’s book and her account of the negotiations.


The Detroit News

(Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)