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Big rig activists get ready to rumble in Salem

SALEM — Activists from across Oregon will gather in Salem today as they attempt to break a world record for the largest truck convoy while also aiming to derail key environmental legislation being considered by lawmakers.

#TimberUnity is back, and Thursday morning protestors driving big rigs, tractors, dump trucks and other hulking vehicles will flood the Capitol to oppose a greenhouse gas reduction plan they say would cripple the economy and way of life for rural Oregonians. The event is a throwback to a nearly identical demonstration that took place last summer to protest a previous version of the bill.

The effort to pass such environmental legislation stalled in the Legislature last year following a walkout by Republican state senators. Democrats, who hold firm majorities in the House and Senate, consider passing a revived version of the bill a priority during the 35-day legislative session.

Angelita Sanchez, a founding board member and secretary of the Timber Unity Association, said that the event is anticipated to draw truck drivers, loggers, ranchers and people from other professions that rely on heavy machinery that would be affected by the legislation.

“Everybody that works in the natural resources industry across this entire state are going to be trying to get their voices heard,” she said.

Sanchez said that trucks from across the state will converge on Interstate 5 between Portland and Salem early in the morning while heading south. The convoy will peel off on to Salem Parkway with the aim of breaking a world record for the most trucks in a convoy. According to the Guinness Book of World Records, the record stands at 453 during a 2004 truck parade organized by a logistics and transportation company in the Netherlands.

Demonstrators will be bused in throughout the morning from nearby staging grounds to the front of the Capitol for an event that will feature letter-writing, voter registration, petitions and a free meal courtesy of the Marion County Republican Party and Adam’s Rib Smoke House. It’s unclear exactly how many will attend the event, but it could range from the hundreds to potentially more than a thousand demonstrators.

Capt. Timothy Fox, Oregon State Police spokesman, said in an email that #TimberUnity planners are expecting between 800 to 1,000 trucks. He said it’s expected to significantly affect traffic surrounding the Capitol as well as routes from sites where protestors will gather before heading to the Capitol. Those sites include the Oregon State Fairgrounds in Salem, Volcanoes Stadium in Keizer and the Polk County Fairgrounds in Rickreall.

“The Capitol will be open and staffed accordingly to ensure everyone’s safety and rights are maintained,” he said, noting that several hundred people are expected to enter the Capitol to speak with legislators.

Lt. Treven Upkes, spokesman for Salem Police Department, said that there won’t be any road closures associated with the event and that organizers didn’t need a permit.

He said that there will be an unusual amount of traffic in the Salem area from 7 a.m. to 9 a.m. the day of the event and from 3 p.m. to 4:30 p.m.

Upkes said that organizers don’t plan on having many vehicles drive around the Capitol. While Salem police will have increased traffic enforcement, he said that as long as vehicles aren’t blocking traffic and are obeying laws they can drive around as long as they want. However, he said organizers plan to have vehicles only do one lap around the Capitol.

Sen. Michael Dembrow, a Portland Democrat who is sponsoring the controversial legislation, said on Monday that he’s revised the legislation to address concerns raised about it. He said that the Legislature had received 1,500 pieces of written testimony so far.

Dembrow said the proposal has been changed to phase in the program affecting vehicle fuel by county, beginning with the Portland area in 2022 and then all counties west of the Cascades (as well as the Bend and Klamath Falls) in 2025. Amendments also carve out tax credits for low income Oregonians to help with utility cost increases.

Sanchez said she wasn’t aware of the changes to accommodate low-income people but feels they won’t go far enough to insulate Oregonians.

“We know that everything trickles down to the consumer,” she said.

Fellow Timber Unity board member Todd Stoffel — a Washington-based truck owner and operator with business in Oregon — agreed. He believes Oregon’s most vulnerable citizens, elderly on fixed incomes and low-income families, would be hurt.

“What they’ve done is give these carve outs for big polluters over the next 30 years,” Stoffel said. “The rest of us end up paying the price with higher fuel prices, higher, double-digit energy cost increases, and on down the line.”

FILE - In this June 12, 2019, file photo, a truck moves around the Oregon state Capitol during a protest against climate bills that truckers say will put them out of business, in Salem, Ore. Oregon is on the precipice of becoming the second state after California to adopt a cap-and-trade program, a market-based approach to lowering the greenhouse gas emissions behind global warming. (AP Photo/Sarah Zimmerman, File)
FILE - In this June 27, 2019 file photo, a woman rides a horse as truckers and loggers opposed to a carbon-capping bill hold a rally at the Capitol in Salem, Ore. When Democrats won a supermajority in the Oregon Legislature last November, it seemed they had a clear path ahead to combat global warming, enact gun control and pursue other liberal goals, but instead, it's been a bumpy road, and Democrats have learned the limits of power during the Oregon Legislature's most acrimonious session in memory as Republican lawmakers boycotted the Senate twice and also fled the state after Democratic Gov. Kate Brown ordered police after them. (Noble Guyon/The Oregonian via AP, File)