Loggers, farmers and truckers from around Oregon insist their voices are being drowned out as Democrats work to pass far-reaching climate change legislation this year. So on Thursday, they brought extra noise.
As hundreds of people flocked to the Oregon Capitol for a rally against Senate Bill 1530, the drone of airhorns from trucks and tractors was never far off. It echoed down the marble halls of the Capitol, seeping into the committee rooms where lawmakers were meeting.
Out on the building’s front steps, supporters of Timber Unity — the group that sprung up in 2019 to oppose a cap-and-trade program in Oregon — railed against legislation they argue will spell economic doom for their way of life.
“We think it's the wrong thing for Oregonians – the wrong thing for Oregon,” said Jim Fallon, owner of Fallon Logging in Tillamook. “We're here trying to let our voice be heard.”
The rally was a reminder that a proposal to cap and reduce the state’s greenhouse gas emissions faces deep antipathy and fear in some corners of the state, even as it’s cheered in others. Under the proposal, large polluters in the transportation, utility and manufacturing sectors would be forced to obtain credits for every ton they emit.
Demonstrators gathered at the Capitol cheered as lawmakers and industry figures delivered fiery speeches against the cap-and-trade bill. Nearby, some purchased food or President Donald Trump knickknacks or signed a petition to recall Democratic Gov. Kate Brown.
“They want your power, they want your money, and they want you to shut up and comply,” said a speaker named Shannon Poe, president of the American Mining Rights Association. “Are you going to?”
"No!" the crowd screamed back.
Asked why they came, attendees offered two central objections to SB 1530. They believe it will raise energy prices while providing little environmental benefit, and they want Democrats to ask voters for permission — something party leaders have refused to consider.
“If this is really the Oregon that everybody wants, then I guess we're going to get there,” Fallon said. “But we think this issue is something that's being crammed down our throats.”
But supporters of the proposal made themselves visible, too, raising banners on overpasses above Interstate 5 readings things like “Climate emergency. Demand action now.” and “Don’t burn up your children’s future.”
The rally was reminiscent of another held last June, when hundreds showed up to oppose the last cap-and-trade proposal. That bill wound up dying, but the debate has changed little in the intervening months.
With SB 1530, Democrats point out they've made concessions based on criticism they heard last year. That includes more lenient regulations on automotive fuel and industrial polluters — and presumably reduced cost impacts for both.
Those changes have not impressed Republican lawmakers or Timber Unity supporters. GOP senators are once again considering walking away from the Capitol to halt SB 1530’s progress, as they did to stymie last year’s bill. Timber Unity supporters believe the bill still spells doom for their industries.
Scott Setniker owns a large commercial farm near Independence, growing grass seed and peppermint.
Setniker relies on natural gas to extract oil from the peppermint, which finds its way into products like toothpaste and therapeutic balms. His irrigation systems run on electricity. He worries that cost increases to either energy source will render him uncompetitive.
“We're doing it as efficiently as we can, and doing a good job, and we're gonna be penalized by cap and trade,” Setniker said. “In agriculture, the market is what the market is. I can't just say, 'Well if you wanna buy my product from me, you need to pay this much more.’ They'll just go and buy it from Idaho or they'll go buy it from somewhere else.”
Jerry Lackner, a Lyons tree farm owner, offered a similar argument.
“This cap-and-trade bill is gonna ruin all commercial transportation in the state of Oregon , especially for the farmers and loggers,” said Lackner. “It’s going to run the fuel price up so high that they can’t afford to move food, equipment, logs, whatever to market.”
Democrats have offered some assurance they will ease burdens on timber companies and farms. They are planning to reintroduce a bill that would offer refunds for any increases in the cost of running their equipment. Those refunds would not apply to trucks that move goods on highways.
How Thursday's rally impacts the fate of SB 1530 remains unclear. Senate Republican Leader Herman Baertschiger Jr., R-Grants Pass, has suggested repeatedly in recent weeks that enthusiasm from Timber Unity and its supporters could force senators to walk away once again.
“The Democrats’ base and the Republicans’ base are pulling us apart,” he said in late January. “It’s a sad state of affairs here in Oregon.”
The picture is not clear cut for all Republicans. Among those lawmakers watching the rally Thursday was state Sen. Tim Knopp, R-Bend, who is currently running for reelection in his swing district.
When Republicans fled the Capitol twice last year, Knopp split the difference — remaining in the building the first time and joining his colleagues in Idaho the second.
“Clearly Oregonians are very unhappy with the bill as it currently exists,” Knopp said Thursday. But asked if the rally would help him decide to walk away again, Knopp was circumspect.
He noted that the Senate’s role has changed. Last year, the cap-and-trade policy would have headed to the governor’s desk if it passed the Senate. But SB 1530 began in the Senate, meaning it still faces scrutiny in the House, where lawmakers are also hinting at a possible walkout.
“I’m still hearing from my constituents and watching what they’re doing with the bill,” Knopp said. "We’ll make a decision when it needs to be made.”