The failure of cap and trade in Salem was a victory for the emerging #TimberUnity movement. Now activists are using the momentum to keep people engaged on issues that often divide rural and urban Oregon.
#TimberUnity stickers have cropped up across the North Coast and people are doing grassroots organizing.
On Thursday afternoon, a few dozen people met at Warrenton City Hall at an event organized by Oregon Women in Timber.
Their hope is to start a chapter in Clatsop County and educate people about forestry and the timber industry.
“We want to work on that education, getting our faces out there and to get people aware of what is going on so they are not hearing the other side of the story all the time and believing that to be the truth,” said Jill Bell, a forest engineer and the chairwoman of the Lane County chapter of Oregon Women in Timber. “We want them to know our truth.”
Many of the people in the audience wanted to talk about the future of cap and trade. After the state Senate abandoned House Bill 2020, which would have placed caps on industry to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, Gov. Kate Brown said she would use her executive power to take steps to counter climate change.
Public opinion polls nationally show most people believe global warming is caused by human activities, with greater worry among younger people and people living in the Northeast and West. Oregon Democrats, who hold supermajorities in the House and Senate, believe there is broad support across the state to reduce emissions and move toward cleaner energy.
But some at the event in Warrenton said they are tired of rural voices not being heard.
Many came from families with ties to the timber industry and expressed fear that more government regulation will hurt their livelihoods and communities. Some talked about how their families have been affected by layoffs and mill closings.
The event was originally scheduled to take place at Uptown Cafe, a Warrenton restaurant that protested after Fort George Brewery’s co-owner, Jack Harris, publicly supported HB 2020. However, the event was moved to Warrenton City Hall to accommodate more people.
The backlash against Fort George was an example of how the cap-and-trade debate created divisions that went beyond the details of the legislation. Fort George, Deschutes Brewery, Dutch Bros. Coffee and other businesses withdrew support for Oregon Business for Climate, a coalition that backed the bill, after being targeted.
Andrew Miller, the CEO of Stimson Lumber, called for boycotts against companies that were part of the coalition. Miller also provided $5,000 in seed money for #TimberUnity’s new political action committee.
Lawmakers who drafted HB 2020 had sought to shield agriculture and forestry, but farming and timber interests were still concerned about the impact of higher fuel prices anticipated from the bill.
Many said work and family obligations keep them from staying up to date on everything happening in Salem, but the firestorm on social media and the protests showed they are prepared to take sides.
Erika Johensen, a log truck driver for Mike Gedenberg Trucking, said she didn’t know “HB” stood for House bill prior to the uproar over HB 2020. She thought it would be on the ballot and felt like she didn’t have a voice when she found out she wouldn’t have the chance to vote on the issue.
Senate Republicans staged a walkout to block HB 2020 from advancing, and the Republican Party hopes to use the energy from the victory to rally voters against Democrats in next year’s elections.
President Donald Trump, a skeptic of climate change, invited two members of #TimberUnity to a White House event this month on environmental leadership.
Bob Shortman, the chairman of Clatsop County Republicans, called HB 2020 a “wake-up call” and invited #TimberUnity to help Republicans in their effort to remove Rep. Tiffiny Mitchell, D-Astoria, and undercut Brown. Mitchell voted for the bill.
Ann Samuelson, a former Clatsop County commissioner who was recalled a decade ago over her support for a liquefied natural gas project, said the #TimberUnity movement has been “a long time coming.”
Warrenton Mayor Henry Balensifer said he was saddened to see that more elected officials on the North Coast did not publicly oppose HB 2020. He encouraged the efforts of #TimberUnity.
“I think certain members of the Legislature are hoping that this effort will fizzle out,” Balensifer said. “That time will go, you’ll get back to your jobs because there’s only so much you can get riled up about until the next thing hits.”