SALEM, Ore. — A fleet of about three dozen logging trucks converged on the state fairgrounds at 8 a.m. Wednesday as part of a demonstration by dozens of loggers, millers, truckers and their families who continued to the state Capitol steps to protest two climate bills they say will devastate them and their industry.
The legislation they were protesting is aimed at slowing climate change, but industry members say they cannot afford to replace expensive diesel trucks or the skyrocketing fuel prices the two bills would cause.
In addition to the timber industry, the bills concern many of Oregon’s farmers and ranchers as well.
House Bill 2007 aims to phase out older diesel engines by prohibiting the use of heavy-duty trucks with engines predating 2007. The bill has now been amended to apply only to Multnomah, Washington and Clackamas counties, but the timber industry operates in that area as well.
Supporters say HB 2007 as a critical step toward slowing climate change. The bill is a high priority for lawmakers in Portland area.
The other bill, House Bill 2020, would set a limit, or cap, on greenhouse gas emissions starting in 2021.
By 2050, the Oregon Climate Action Program estimates the annual amount of carbon emitted into the atmosphere would decrease by 43.4 million metric tons — equivalent in weight to over 9 million elephants.
Critics, however, claim that amount will make little difference, amounting to only 0.12% of global greenhouse gas emissions, which reached 36 billion metric tons, according to the 2018 Climate Conference.
The bill would require companies that emit more than 25,000 metric tons of carbon a year to buy “allowances” for every metric ton they generate. This would apply to about 100 companies statewide, include fuel companies and utilities. As a result, according to the Oregon Farm Bureau, fuel and energy prices would spike.
Impact on rural industry
Jim Geisinger, executive vice president of Oregon Associated Loggers, said promoting a cleaner environment is important — but not in this way.
If HB 2020 passes, Geisinger estimated fuel costs will increase 18 to 20 cents per gallon initially and continue rising until prices reach $6 to $7 per gallon. Geisinger said that would drive many producers, loggers and mills out of business.
Rep. Bill Post, R-Keizer, who talked with protesters on the Capitol steps, said he believes the increase in fuel prices will dramatically raise the cost of living for all Oregonians, not just those in rural communities.
Geisinger and those he represents are also worried about HB 2007. Because many loggers own pre-2007 vehicles, this bill would make their fleets worthless. A new logging truck, according to Geislinger, costs around $200,000 so buying a new fleet is economically impossible for most companies.
This would impact Oregonians like Adam Lardy, 46, from Buxton, who owns pre-2007 logging trucks. Buxton is in Washington County.
“I care about a clean environment as much as the next person,” Lardy said. “But I can’t afford new trucks now, especially not all at once. I’m afraid for my neighbors and friends and the people I work with, too. We’re afraid of losing everything.”
Geisinger applauded Rep. Karin Power, D-Milwaukie, and Rep. Shelly Boshart Davis, R-Albany, for their work on amendments that have limited HB 2007 to the three-county Portland Metro area. But even with amendments, Geisinger is concerned.
“Either one of these bills passing would be very damaging,” said Geisinger. “Together, they would be devastating. This protest is an expression of deep concern. It’s a grassroots response.”
At the Capitol, protesters took turns at the podium, voicing anger and concern.
Mike Pihl, 58, owns a private timber company just west of Portland. He has been logging since age 17.
“These are some of the toughest times I’ve been in,” Pihl said. “It reminds me of 2008 (the start of the recession). Everything is in turmoil.”
If these bills pass, Pihl said he’s worried he will have to lay off more employees. In 2007, Pihl said he had 60 employees. Now, he employs 20 people. If HB 2007 and HB 2020 pass, Pihl estimates he will only be able to afford a dozen employees.
“How long am I going to put up with this kind of punishment?” said Pihl. “I’m a go-getting son-of-a-gun. I even have a tattoo that says, ‘Never give up.’ But how much longer can I do this? How will we survive?”
Legislators have a big task in front of them —finding a way to slow environmental degradation without hurting rural areas.
“I can’t overemphasize how divided people are in rural and urban areas,” Geisinger said. “Rural people are not significantly contributing to greenhouse gases. Urban people are producing most of the greenhouse gases and causing most of the climate change, so if they want to penalize themselves, have at it. Leave rural Oregon alone.”