OLYMPIA — Timber Unity debuted in Washington’s capital Monday morning, as dozens of log trucks parked on the Capitol Campus before sunrise, their drivers and passengers ramped up to testify against a climate-change bill that would push up fuel prices.
Rally organizer Todd Stoffel, a Washougal, Wash., log truck owner-operator, said he expected as many as 175 log trucks and 400 people to come for a day of political action. Stoffel said he believes Timber Unity will catch on in Washington, as much as it has in Oregon.
“Just like Oregon, it’s only going to grow,” he said. “You can’t get to 10,000 people without the first 400.”
Stoffel said the rally took shape Feb. 28 and was timed to coincide with a hearing on House Bill 1110, a measure to impose a low-carbon fuel standard. The policy would gradually mandate a higher percentage of ethanol and other alternative fuels in gasoline and diesel.
California and Oregon have already adopted the policy. California’s Air Resources Board and Legislative Analyst’s Office estimates the standard could add as much as 46 cents a gallon to the price of gasoline in that state by the time it’s fully implemented in 2030. Oregon officials have not projected the policy’s eventual effect on pump prices.
Long lines formed at kiosks as truck drivers signed up to testify in front of the Senate Transportation Committee in the afternoon. Supporters of a low-carbon fuels standard, including Gov. Jay Inslee, argue it’s the best policy available to reduce greenhouse gases from vehicles.
Log truck drivers said higher fuel costs will ripple through the economy and impact everyone. Many said they viewed the lawmakers who back the policy as indifferent to their families and futures.
Kelso, Wash., log truck owner-operator Dave Harlan said he buys 80 gallons of fuel a day. “Do the math. It’s a big chunk out of our pockets. It’s our livelihood,” he said.
Some truckers said their rule of thumb is to gross $1,000 a day. Taxes, fuel and maintenance eat into that. They said they’re like farmers — price takers, not price makers. “We’re complaining about the rates we’re getting paid now,” Harlan said. “You either say ‘OK’ to them, or stay home.”
The low-carbon fuel standard hearing provided a focus to the day, but the grievances expressed were much broader.
“I’m starting to feel like a sheep,” said trucking company owner Delon Chapman of Shelton, Wash. “We’re just trying to make a damn good living.”
Rep. Jim Walsh, R-Aberdeen, came out to talk to a group of drivers. “Do you guys want a handout?” he asked. The answer came back: “No.”
At mid-morning, Timber Unity rallied on the steps of the Legislative Building. The Washington Farm Bureau helped organize it. “We are all members of the same team,” the Farm Bureau’s president, Ephrata, Wash., farmer Mike LaPlant, told the crowd.
Three Republican legislators spoke at the rally. Sen. Ann Rivers, R-La Center, said Timber Unity’s presence should stiffen the resolve of some lawmakers. “With you here, it’s like having a prizefighter in our corner,” she said. “Rock on, you guys,” she said in parting.
To reduce greenhouse gas emissions, Timber Unity suggests planting vegetation along right-of-ways, government procuring local goods, recycling centers and tax laws that encourage the retirement of older trucks.
The Washington House passed the low-carbon fuel standard this year, as well as last year, but the bill has not made it through the Senate. A drawback to the policy for some lawmakers is that it won’t generate tax revenue.
The Legislature is scheduled to adjourn March 12. If lawmakers don’t adopt a low-carbon fuels bill or cap-and-trade, an emissions-reduction policy over a broader sector of the economy, the issues probably will be back next year.
Stoffel said Timber Unity will be back then. “We’re here for the long haul,” he said.