SALEM, Ore. — Loggers, truck drivers and other workers from across the state of Oregon gathered in Salem on Wednesday to protest a cap-and-trade bill that they say could cost jobs and hurt their industries.
Many of them rode in on their big-rig trucks, some emblazoned with signs proclaiming "NO ON 2020."
The protesters worry that House Bill 2020, aimed at fighting climate change, would not only put their jobs in jeopardy — it could also hurt a number of other industries in Oregon.
Some gathered first at the Oregon State Fairgrounds — driving in with a long stream of semi-trucks before being bused to the state house steps together in groups.
"There's probably ten times more people here than we expected," said one of the protesters.
If passed, House Bill 2020 would institute a cap-and-trade system, forcing the largest polluters in Oregon to pay for each ton of gas they produce. At present, this covers about 100 companies. Over time, more companies would be made to pay.
The biggest polluters, however, could buy credits to offset emissions. That doesn't sit well with Mike Pihl, who says the system doesn't really fix the problem.
"It allows large corporations to keep polluting at the cost of us working people," Pihl said.
Pihl says that jobs are on the line because the credits that companies buy translate into plots of trees that won't be available for loggers to cut down. Fewer trees to log — in an already stagnating industry — means fewer jobs.
Early Wednesday morning, KGW spoke with truck drivers in the Portland area as they prepared for the trek to Salem. They said that they were worried the bill would kill business and force companies to move.
Those who support the bill say they care too — about the environment and the money already being spent on climate change. The cap-and-trade program would raise an estimated $550 million in its first year. That money is supposed to pay for a transition to cleaner energy.
If approved by the Senate, the program would begin in 2021. At present, the bill stands on the precipice of a tense political showdown between Democrats and Republicans, who have each threatened extreme measures to see that they prevail.
(Christine Pitawanich of KGW News contributed to this report.)