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The Timber Unity rally at State Capitol in Salem, February 6, 2020.

Rancor over Democrats’ proposed climate change policy in the current short legislative session was on vivid display in Salem Thursday morning as a convoy of log and agricultural trucks encircled the Capitol and blasted their air horns in protest of a Democrat-backed climate bill.

It was a repeat performance of sorts from last June, when the newly formed rural advocacy group Timber Unity organized a similar rally to protest an earlier version of the policy and support for Republican legislators’ stand against it.

On the drive into Salem Thursday morning, counter-protesters stood on overpasses with a variety of banners, including “Don’t don’t burn up our children’s future.”

State Sen. Kim Thatcher, R-Keizer, kicked off the rally with a speech at 10 a.m. on the Capitol steps. There, Thatcher announced that she plans to run for secretary of state.

“I can’t watch as Oregon goes down the tubes,” Thatcher said.

Thatcher was met by big trucks draped in massive signs, hundreds of protesters carrying flags and Timber Unity messages and others who found a way to incorporate their other controversial issues into the climate debate, such as “The only vaccine Oregon needs is one to prevent Cap and Trade.”

Senate Republican Leader Herman Baertschiger said last month that another walkout to deny Democrats a quorum on their climate change vote remains a real possibility, and that he would prefer to see the policy referred to voters. Democrats have pledged to deliver the climate change bill, Senate Bill 1530, this year.

But some voters agree that they should be the ones to make the call.

Steve Wick, a Democrat from Gales Creek in Washington County, said that the Democrats all represent districts with the highest per capita income and Republicans, the lowest. He doesn’t think the fuel rebates will help the middle class or retirees.

“The main thing for me is it’s going to create poverty,“ said Wick, a retired high tech worker. “Let’s send this to the voters rather than trying to shove it through a short session. Let the voters decide.”

The carbon pricing program from last year’s House Bill 2020, known as the Clean Energy Jobs bill, remains largely intact. The new version establishes a gradually more stringent cap on statewide carbon dioxide emissions and require polluters from the transportation fuels, utility and industrial sectors to acquire “emissions allowances” to cover every metric ton of their emissions. As the supply of those allowances declines over time, the theory goes, the price of allowances will go up and force polluters to clean up — by electrifying transportation, building more wind and solar farms or adopting more efficient production technology.

Supporters say they listened to critics’ concerns and have made significant changes to lessen its impact on fuel prices for rural Oregonians and the cost of compliance for large industrial firms – two sources of loud opposition in the unsuccessful bill. At the same time, they argue the new proposal will maintain the program’s environmental integrity and a commitment to reduce greenhouse gases 45% below 1990 levels by 2035 and 80% below that level by 2050.

Oregon lawmakers returned to Salem on Monday for the 35-day session. And already, they appear on the brink of another national headline-grabbing shutdown. Republicans in both the House and Senate say they plan to walkout if needed to block a carbon cap-and-trade bill, just as Senate Republicans did in 2019.

Baertschiger told The Oregonian/OregonLive that Republican polling in Republican-held districts leaves him feeling as if his party is “gonna be fine.” He said the biggest message from constituents — even in swing districts in south Salem and Bend — is “Stop cap-and-trade, by far.”

Tasha Webb, a Timber Unity member and miner, echoed that sentiment when she spoke to the crowd on Thursday.

“Any gold miners here?” she asked, and was answered with much cheering. “We’re an endangered species now. They’ve over-regulated us to near extinction. Miners aren’t here today because of timber, we’re here because of unity.”

“If they vote yes on this climate tax, they better be scared,” she said of Democrats. “No amount of campaign financing will get them reelected. We’ll knock on doors, we’ll write initiatives and we’ll sign every damn petition.”

Timber Unity members said they have delivered their own four-point plan to reduce carbon that includes increasing the use of state right-of-ways to sequester carbon, expanding the state’s recycling infrastructure, using Oregon’s purchasing power to buy local and using tax codes to promote investments in more efficient technology and equipment production.